A rongoā cure for kauri dieback?

By D'Angelo Martin

A Northland woman says a recent experiment she conducted to treat kauri dieback has had remarkable results.  Lynn Butterworth, a student of Māori medicinal expert Tohe Ashby, tested the possibilities of using to rongoā Māori to treat the tree disease.  

Butterworth has been practising traditional Māori medicine for two years now and has been investigating a possible treatment for the devastating disease.

"In 2017, I was doing a level 4 rongoā course with Tohe and we were talking about kauri dieback and we knew there was something quite not right with our trees," says Butterworth, "He had some rongoā for me to use and we went through the steps of how to prepare it and how to apply it."

Since their trial, she and Ashby have seen the trees within the forest grove in Northland that they work in replenish over time. 

Ashby, who is an expert on kauri trees and understanding the Māori tikanga around treating the disease explains how they formulate the medicine.

"We gather the fat of the whale and use also the bone of the whale, we mix both elements and then apply it on the bark of the tree.  Within this process, we deliver our karakia."

Butterworth hopes to encourage a Māori point of view in treating the disease where mainstream methods may not be working.

"This actually has worked for healers for thousands of years, not just this particular rongoā in question but all traditional medicines, they've been around for thousands of years for a reason." 

The disease, formally known as Phytophthora taxon Agathis and described as a "microscopic fungus-like plant pathogen", was first discovered on Great Barrier Island in the early 70s. 

A possible treatment for kauri dieback has only recently been discovered.
 
During their research, the duo found a strong connection to Māori mythology and the relationship between tohorā and kauri.

"Within the stories about the whales, they know when the kauri trees are sick so they connect with each other's frequency.  The whale comes to shore to aid the kauri".

Both Butterworth and Ashby hope to get their treatment scientifically tested.  Until then, they will continue to utilise the rongoā methods of their ancestors.