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Turia: What is Rongoa Practice?

National Conference : What is Rongoa Practice?

Te Wananga o Raukawa; otaki

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Friday 10 February 2006; 9am

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, Ngāti Raukawa, tēnā koutou katoa.

Ko tenei te mihi ki a koutou nga kaimahi o Nga Ringawhakahaere, nga whanau o nga hau e wha. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Toi Tu te marae o Tane; Toi Tu te marae o Tangaroa; Toitu te iwi.

One of our kuia of the river turns one hundred this year. She is a woman who has never used western medicine, who walks every day and takes care to eat the right kai to maintain her wellness.

Our kuia is not someone who interprets rongoa as being another name for traditional medicines, herbal treatments, or alternative therapy. Rongoa to her is about a total way of life, upholding tikanga Maori to achieve holistic health.

Rongoa is the way we talk to each other and to our children and our Matua Tupuna to ensure a healthy mind, a healthy body and a healthy spirit. Rongoa springs from an absolute belief in the total well-being of the wairua, tinana, hinengaro, whanau.

Mä te rongoa e whakaora pai noa iho. The tikanga of whakawhanaungatanga, how you relate to each other is as important to rongoa as is the extraction of healing properties from our flora and fauna.

You will be familiar with the notion of pukuriri - literally twisting our stomach up in knots, getting angry.

Our old people used to say, ‘kaue e karanga i te mate’ - don’t go looking for ill-health; or ‘nahau tonu to mate i rapa’ - you sought out your illness; believing that it is our capacity to uphold kaupapa such as manaakitanga, wairuatanga, whanaungatanga that is the key to maintaining a glowing Bill of Health.

This concept of ‘believing’ is absolutely sacrosanct to my understanding of hauora. My mokopuna likes that song, ‘I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky’. If we really want to practice rongoa, we must believe in rongoa.

Rongoa is about the restoration of our kaupapa and tikanga which has been handed down by our ancestors. It has mana and tapu; that is why it demands respect.

If we are to practise rongoa we must understand the purapura - the origins from which it sources its mana.

In order to uphold those taonga from our matua tupuna, we should not pick and choose. To carry out the practises that are our kaupapa and our tikanga, we need to look carefully at their legacy.

I get hoha with this politically contrived push that we must ‘move on’ and not look back to the past.

One of our kuia from home reminded me that everything we do today has its origins, and those origins pre-date colonisation. We shouldn’t be afraid to go through the processes of decolonisation, to strip ourselves bare in readiness to learn anew the old ways.

To be able to learn anew we may have to rediscover the treasures that have come from our atua. The only way to get to this point is to critically examine those things that we now believe in, to get to the stage of knowing the difference.

Our kuia on the River has an unshakeable faith in te hunga wairua - Io, Tangaroa, Tane mahuta, matua tupuna. She calls on te hunga wairua to be there to help whatever healing is needed.

In her korero, rongoa wasn’t just about going into the bushes - learning how to pick plants, boil them up, and then drink them. Rongoa is absolutely bound up in our daily lives - bound within our world, through our kaupapa and the practice of our tikanga.

It is this unshakeable faith which I have found so inspirational in trying to uphold the kaupapa we have endorsed in the Maori Party. It is our commitment to give positive expression to these kaupapa in our whole lives - not just when we are sick.

While far too many of our people turn to rongoa when all western medicine has failed -setting in place an unenviable expectation - it must be recognised that western medicine and rongoa can exist side by side.

I have set myself the challenge of looking at rongoa as a means of expressing our kaupapa -it’s about walking the talk - and talking the walk as well.

To practise rongoa you must have respect for others as well as yourself, acknowledging their mana. In expressing manaakitanga we also understand the notion of reciprocity.

This is an issue of much debate at present with the discussions around the proposed Trans Tasman Therapeutic Goods Agency. The agency will deal exclusively with products, drugs and alternative therapies that are sold to the public. Given that rongoa Māori are not commercialised, they should not come under the auspices of the proposed agency, and should not be affected.

To my kuia, the exploitation of rongoa plants for commercial gain is inconsistent with tikanga Maori. When we look at that whole area of resourcing we must challenge any move which seeks to introduce a profit-making purpose at the expense of our tikanga.

We need to return to our values and ensure that the influences on our lifestyles nurture health and well-being. The people who are role-models in this field are those who are committed to rangatiratanga - providing leadership in determining the very best pathway ahead for whanau, hapu and iwi.

Our rongoa practice has to be aligned with how we support each other as whanau. How many whanau practice whanaungatanga- exercising the full range of rights, responsibilities and obligations inherent in whanau, hapu and iwi?

We need to develop relationships of confidence and trust - so that the dispensing of liquid, ointment or capsules is done within a context of total well-being. That may mean, for instance, taking the risk of challenging a whanau when we see unhealthy behaviour and practices whose origins are not from our kaupapa or tikanga.

It may also mean taking a hard line approach to our cultural and personal safety. We must be committed to tikanga tiakitanga - cultural supervision.

Such disciplines are necessary for the upholding of kotahitanga, the sense of unity of purpose and direction. If we are to follow kotahitanga we do not need to belittle others. Harmony can be created through enabling people to have their say - unity and diversity are not incompatible.

I believe the key question confronting us in all aspects of our life is how we can restore balance in its fullest sense.

Our people have the ability to adapt things from another culture. Whatever strength we gain from other ideas it does not mean we have to compromise who we are and where we come from.

It is like us in the Maori Party - just because we talk to Labour, National or Act, doesn’t mean we will change and be like them - no - we will still be the independent Maori voice in Parliament. And that is something we have learnt from our ancestors, the wise ones, the tohunga.

We know that wairuatanga is best expressed in our connection with our maunga, awa, moana, marae, tupuna and atua. If we are seeking to practice the tikanga that will support our aspirations, we need to create an environment which recognises our spiritual, physical, mental and cultural needs.

Wairuatanga has been very much on our minds this week, as we celebrate the life of a young man whose family called on Tangaroa, who offered Tangaroa their gifts, calling for their taonga to be returned. When he was in the waters this young man called out to the gods, to his whanau, to those whom he loved, and he felt the warmth of the air around him and knew he would be all right. Now that’s the Hunga Wairua, the sense of belonging to our tupuna, our atua, our moana.

Rongoa is also firmly located in the sense of belonging derived from specified ancestral links. Upholding our respect for mana whenua would also manifest itself in protecting our rongoa resources, and preventing the loss or damage that may result from forestry or council projects - or from the ravages of possums.

Kaitiakitanga expresses itself in the sustainable maintenance of resources for future generations. The damage done to rongoa resources by inexperienced harvesters needs to be challenged - so that we are helping people to understand our role in preserving the integrity of resources for future generations.

The respect we have for whakapapa, for knowing who we are, how we came to be here, what obligations we have to those generations who will follow us and what our relationship is to others, is also encompassed within traditional healing. The impact of violence, of drug abuse, of alcohol in creating Maori unwellness is an assault of whakapapa.

Another form of cultural assault is the alienation and exploitation of traditional knowledge, which gave rise to the claim to the Waitangi Tribunal for Indigenous flora and fauna, WAI 262. It was for those reasons that so many Maori opposed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), seeking to oppose any moves which threaten our cultural survival.

Finally, our kaupapa recognises te reo Maori as the unambiguous expression of the status of Maori people. The revival of te reo Maori must sit alongside the revival of rongoa if we are truly committed to benefit Maori now and for future generations.

The resurgence of rongoa Maori is undeniable - as demonstrated in the Ministry of Health publishing service specifications; the Clinical Training Agency funding the National Diploma of Rongoa Maori - a programme which has gained NZQA accreditation - a programme which of course you all know as being delivered through Te Wananga o Raukawa.

Rongoa Maori can only sustain its ongoing value as a cultural asset if it retains our distinctive knowledge, our culturally valid codes of conduct, and our belief in our tikanga and kaupapa.

Rongoa Maori is more than a plant, it is more than karakia, it is more than core competencies in safe cultural and clinical practice. Rongoa Maori is about believing we can touch the sky, it is about believing in tangata whenua, it is a total package. Kimihia nga putake katoa o te kaupapa, ina kitea, kimihia nga rongoa.


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