Iwi research whalebone treatment for kauri dieback

By Talisa Kupenga

Northland iwi are investigating how whalebone could treat kauri dieback disease. Māori medicinal expert Tohe Ashby is using traditional knowledge to test the possibilities.

Ashby has conducted case studies to test his theory, which has produced some exciting results.

"I have tested it and it shows an improvement in the condition of the trees."

Traditional stories from Ngāti Wai and Ngāti Hine say Kauri and the whale were brothers, which prompted Ashby's research.

"Tohora (whale) went to explore the sea and liked what he found so suggested to Kauri that they live there.

"Kauri wanted to stay [on land] so Tohora removed his skin and gave it to Kauri and he went to live at sea."

Ashby says these stories hold traditional knowledge that forms the basis of his research.

Cawthorn Institute’s Dr James Ataria has been assisting Ashby in bringing his work together.

"Our role as researchers is to support our elders, they hold the knowledge and we need to help them so we can work together and understand some of the barriers Māori face [in this space]," Dr Ataria says.

Ashby says he would like to be funded to expand his research and share it with other iwi.