Traditional Indigenous Healing: What Was, Is, and Will Be Rongoā Māori

Dr Erena Wikaira - IIRC20
Friday, November 20, 2020

Aim: In pre-colonial Aotearoa/New Zealand, traditional Māori health systems (rongoā Māori) maintained the health and well-being of Māori communities. However, colonisation marginalised the practice of rongoā Māori and forcibly imposed reliance on Western health systems. Māori and Indigenous peoples suffer widespread ongoing health inequities, and maintain a preference for rongoā, and there is potential for the revitalisation of rongoā to contribute to improving Māori health outcomes. This project aimed to investigate ways to renormalise whānau access to and use of rongoā Māori in everyday life. Based within Ngāti Whātua ō Ōrākei (in central Auckland), the research takes into account broad structural, political and historical mechanisms of influence. Project objectives included:

1. Describe whānau (family) attitudes and behaviours towards rongoā Māori a. Describe past, present and future aspirations for use of rongoā b. Identify barriers to and facilitators of Māori use of rongoā in everyday life

2. Explore the potential for innovative solutions to renormalise rongoā Māori.

Methods: This is a qualitative Kaupapa Māori research project. Marae-based whānau workshops and focus groups were held with Ngāti Whātua ō Ōrākei whānau, Māori health providers and Māori whānau. Eighteen Key Informants, with expertise in rongoā, Māori health, Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), and/or Ngāti Whātua ō Ōrākei were interviewed. Thematic analysis using critical discourse analysis foregrounded Māori world views and realities.

Findings: Rongoā Māori is an Indigenous health system fundamentally underpinned by Māori world views, Mātauranga Māori and whakapapa (relational) connections to Te Ao Māori. A lack of systemic support for rongoā, coupled with prioritisation of Western medicine, is detrimental to rongoā survival. Multiple challenges to rongoā revitalisation include: unsustainable whānau realities; disconnection from Te Ao Māori; threats to rongoā credibility; risk of mātauranga appropriation, preventing knowledge transfer; lack of systemic support; and health system denial of wairua experiences. Whānau aspirations for rongoā embrace new technologies supporting creative potential. Rongoā renormalisation requires decolonising our understanding of what rongoā ‘was’ and ‘is’ so that we can realise what we want it to ‘be’.

Conclusions: Rongoā Māori was what it was, is what it is, and will be what whānau self-determine it will be. title, author names with the presenting author first, tribal affiliations and organisation. 

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