Māori medicine to help combat suicide

By Herewini Waikato

David Kukutai Jones with a traditional medication



Ngāti Pikiao Runanga is determined to do something about the number of suicides in the Lakes District.

Over 2019/2020 the district saw 17 suicides, so the runanga is now introducing traditional Māori rongoā to whānau, teaching them to heal and support whānau who are facing trauma.

 “One death to suicide is too many for our people and rongoā being taught by local practitioners is one way to prevent suicide in the rohe,” Ngāti Pikiao Runanga Kia Piki Te Ora coordinator Mamaeroa Merito said.

Tu Ramarama ki te Ora ki Te Arawa is a Ngāti Pikiao Runanga project that has been working with rongoā practitioners such as  David Kukutai Jones, who is an expert in rongoā,  to teach  to vulnerable whānau. There are five different avenues of hauora and one is using rongoā as a means to health and wellbeing of whānau to prevent suicide.

“Māori medicine can help our vulnerable people,” Jones said. “There are many people facing suicidal trauma. The medicine of Tītoki and Tāramoa can settle and revitalise our people,” he said.

Helping vulnerable people

The runanga has done intensive research and has come to the biggest barrier to some Māori and rongoā is their lack of knowledge. They don’t know what rongoā is and don’t know how to collect and prepare medicines.

 “But once you teach rongoā once you educate whānau about the different plants about the different uses and how to make rongoā safely, it’s a whole new world for them,” Merito said.

Merito and Jones believe westernised medicine is not working well for Māori and this has drawn them to rongoā Māori medicines.

“That is why we look back to our own traditional ways of being and knowing and that is how rongoā fits into this,” Merito said. “ It was hugely powerful and still is and that knowledge was really common for our tupuna but it is something we have lost over time,” she said.

Jones said, “Let’s not get rid of western medicine but let’s try to work together, add more rongoā Māori to the practice”.