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Rongoā Māori

Rongoā Māori

Seek holistic wellbeing by treating physical, emotional and spiritual imbalances

How can Rongoā Māori nourish your soul?

Rongoā Māori is the traditional healing system of the Māori people in New Zealand (Aotearoa) which has been passed down through the generations. In the vein of other traditional medicine systems, Rongoā Māori appreciates that a person’s ailments must be treated by restoring balance – physically, internally, spiritually and with the land – to achieve health and wellbeing. Those who have the healing knowledge of Rongoā Māori are called the Tohunga.

Rongoā Māori is believed to have been brought to the Māori people by Tāne, the God of the forest, and a large part of Rongoā Māori is the use of plant medicine, known as Rongoā Rākau. Learning Rongoā Rākau requires one to build a relationship with the forest that goes beyond knowledge of the healing elements of the trees and plants. This appreciation and respect for the forest, trees and plants is embedded in the principles that govern the harvesting of the plants. For instance, harvesting should only occur when the light first touches the forest, with a specific person or reason in mind, and not where someone else has just harvested. Importantly, prayers and thanks ‘for the use of the forest’s healing’ should be offered while harvesting the plants. 

Another key element of Rongoā Māori is the aspect of spiritual healing, or Te Oo Mai Reia. The mana, which is the energy or authority of the expert who practices Rongoā Māori is crucial. This is as Te Oo Mai Reia involves using physical touch to ‘create balance and shift energies’. For this reason, massage (known as romiromi or mirimiri) on pressure points is often used as a technique to facilitate spiritual wellness. Rongoā Māori also uses ‘karakia’, or prayers or chants, to promote spiritual healing.

Rongoā Māori has not always had a smooth history in New Zealand. The arrival of Europeans, introduction of new diseases and a shift towards a Western medical system saw the Tohunga Suppression Act passed in 1907 due to concerns about ‘rogue Tohunga. Despite this background, Rongoā Māori is now seen as integral to the culture of New Zealand, with the Te Kāhui Rongoā Trust established to promote and protect Rongoā Māori. The New Zealand government currently funds some rongoā providers to provider services such as massage, prayer support and cultural support. Providers of Rongoā Māori funded by the government are required to adhere to the rongoā standards, the Tikanga ā-Rongoā, that sets out a framework for providing quality services. Other organisations may choose to adhere to these standards on a voluntary basis. 

Benefits of Rongoā Māori

Every aspect of Rongoā Māori is relational, with the healing based in love and care for the person and aimed at bringing wholeness instead of simply treating the illness. Healers invite spiritual healing for their patient, and even the process of picking and preparing plants involves communication with the plants and prayer in the preparation of the medicine. 

In addition to bringing healing to the spirit and soul, Rongoā Māori is also used to treat physical symptoms. The traditional knowledge of the Tohunga has seen native plants used to treat conditions ranging from sunburn and wounds, to respiratory disorders such as cough and bronchitis, or toothache and diarrhea. While the Māori have been using these treatments for years, scientific studies have only recently begun to examine the large array of plants used in Rongoā Rākau.

However, some native New Zealand plants have been the subject of scientific studies and known to provide established benefits. One of the most widely studied is the Manuka plant, from which Manuka honey and Manuka oil is made. The leaves and bark of the Manuka plant have been used to treat skin diseases, heal cuts and burns, and ease itching or for pain relief, with multiple studies finding that Manuka has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties

Native plants used in Rongoā Rākau have also been studied as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes. In particular, natural properties in the karamu, kūmarahou, and kawakawa plants have been found to have potential effects on the metabolism of glucose in the body, suggesting anti-diabetic effects. 

Rongoā Māori may assist in relieving symptoms related to:

  • Bronchitis
  • Diabetes
  • Diarrhea
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Jaw, teeth and gum issues
  • Joint issues
  • Muscle strain and injury
  • Pain relief
  • Respiratory and breathing issues
  • Skin, hair and nail issues
  • Sore throat and coughs
  • Sports injuries
  • Sprains, strains and ligament injuries
  • Visual impairment and eye issues
  • Vomiting and nausea

What to expect from a Rongoā Māori session? 

Each Rongoā Māori session is customised to the person’s concerns and state of health. As a holistic modality, the healer will seek to address the root cause instead of the presenting issue. This means that your healer may ask questions you think are unrelated, or use techniques such as chanting that do not seem to directly address the issue. 

Rongoā Māori often involves the use of massage, which is also used as a tool to help release emotional tension and spiritual blockages. This can be an intense physical experience as masseurs utilise their arms, legs and various body parts to provide the massage. You may also expect your masseuse to use elements such as sticks or stones. 

A large element of Rongoā Māori is inviting the healing essence of nature into your body, and remedies may involve bathing in the ocean or using plant-based remedies. The spiritual aspects of Rongoā Māori are also crucial, so there may be spiritual cleansings, chanting or prayers performed during your session.  

As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing Rongoā Māori. If you have any concerns at all, also speak to your healer, who will be happy to address these and evaluate whether Rongoā Māori is a suitable treatment for you.

References

Rongoā Māori | Science Learning Hub

Maori healers' views on wellbeing: The importance of mind, body, spirit, family and land | ResearchGate

Rongoā Māori | healthnavigator.org.nz

Demystifying Rongoā Māori: Traditional Māori Healing | bpac.org.nz

Te Kāhui Tāwharautanga O Ngā Rongoā | rongoamaori.org.nz

Rongoā Māori: Traditional Māori healing | health.govt.nz

Tikanga ā-Rongoā | health.govt.nz

Acknowledging cultural values and beliefs embedded in rongoā Māori healing | International Journal of Indigenous Health

Rongoa Maori: Ancient medicine with modern health benefits | Fox News

Rongoā Māori for the skin | dermnetnz.org

Mānuka Oil - A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties | ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

What is Rongoā Māori? | tewakarakau.com

Body and spirit: a glimpse into the world of traditional Maori medicine | stuff.co.nz

An Afternoon With A Young Māori Healer | VICE