Ngātahi - healing through Rongoa Māori
Awhina Motutere’s classroom smells of the sweet and slightly bitter aroma of kawakawa. It is a calm, open space where she teaches Rongoa Māori — the art of Māori healing.
The practice of Rongoa Māori is very old, but Awhina (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungunu) herself is thoroughly modern; a consummate traveller who has lived and worked in Israel, the Middle East, the far east and South America and has a degree in Naturopathy and a Diploma in Herbal Medicine. Now, she is home in Tauranga Moana, teaching Rongoa Māori and sharing her wisdom through one-on-one appointments, small groups, workshops and healing retreats.
How long have you been practicing Rongoa?
Rongoa Māori is the way I was brought up and it was present in many different aspects of my life. Rongoa is about everything – it’s a whole unique holistic healing system that doesn’t need anything else apart from itself. Rongoa doesn’t fit into a box, it’s a whole universe.
How old do you think the system is?
If I look at the whakapapa (genealogy) of mirimiri (traditional Māori massage) – the symbol is an Egyptian hieroglyph. I think its old, well before us. I feel it is celestial. It’s in our cosmology, our purakau (our stories), karakia (prayers), incantations.
Do you think Rongoa has something to offer the world?
Absolutely. There’s something very healing about Aotearoa New Zealand. We have so much to offer in the form of bringing people back to complete wellness.
Rongoa Māori practitioners look at the entirety of who you are – your whole universe. All physical symptoms come from a dis-ease that could be mental, spiritual, environmental or whānau related.
The Western way doesn’t teach you about the wairua (spirit), the mauri (life force). It doesn’t teach about spirituality. It’s not a holistic view. It’s literally physical, not taking into consideration mind, body, family – all of the things that make us who we are. Rongoa Māori is 89% wairuatanga, about your spirituality.
Tell me about the genealogy of trees and plant medicine
In our creation stories there is a song called Te Pu that talks about the first root and the genealogy of how things came into being, how energy is manifested. How we all start at the same place, but all choose different directions.
For each rākau (tree, plant) you have a specific takutaku (recitation) which is said while you’re harvesting – this is what activates the mauri (life force). In order to connect to mauri we use sound – vibration, karakia, or you might have a Taonga pūoro (instrument) or a stick.
Is your name ‘Awhina’ significant in your career path as a healer?
‘Awhina’ means ‘the helper’ to care for, to caress. When my grandmother was young, she got sick and my great grandmother took my grandmother to the Ratana Church for faith healing. All of the people that help inside the Ratana Church are called Awhina. When I was born my father changed it to “Te Awhina”. I am a helper, but my father changed it because my grandmother had been very ill, so he redirected the energy a little bit.
Tell me about your skin care range, Lua
Lua started when I went to South America with my husband. We went to Machu Picchu and climbed this mountain where one side was dedicated to the sun and one to the moon (cavern de Lua). There was a rock chair and we sat there, and I imagined that when the moon came out and you were there it would’ve been phenomenal. That’s where I got the name from. People think they’re buying a serum but it’s so much more – it has aspects of the sea, of the ngahere (forest), of me – all the different things go into it. You’re receiving healing without really knowing. I do some herbal remedies and a couple are very popular with international buyers so that tells me something – that people need our medicine.
Tell me more about the healing workshops and retreats offered by Ngātahi
In the retreats people will get a basic understanding of the foundations of Rongoa Māori. I try to do the workshops in places where you are completely cut off from the outside world, there’s no mobile phone, no internet, nothing. It’s just quiet.
What we are essentially doing is connecting with ourselves. We’re letting it all go, whether we are with a bunch of people, or one on one. We are learning to reconnect. I help by doing body work, or sometimes I am just listening – a lot of people just want to be heard.
The mirimiri is in the korero (conversation), when people are talking everything that needs healing comes to the surface. When they have finished talking, I put them on the table and then depending on where the body is in that present moment and how much the body is willing to let go of, they release.
For a bespoke retreat, I go into depth with people about what they want. Some people are on a wellness journey, some have had surgery. Sometimes it’s getting the girls together – saunas, spas, body work, eating Rongoa kai (mostly plant-based); some women want to do detoxing.
People come to a workshop because they are looking for transformation, and I am there to assist them on their path.
The takeaway is how people’s lives will change. Everybody is on their own journey, Rongoa Māori is about finding yourself.