Far North man Nikau Munroe-Rawiri, who used rongoā Māori to overcome anxiety and mental health issues, looks for some of the natural ingredients in the forest. Photo / Shane Wenzlick / Phototek
A Far North man using rongoā Māori [traditional healing] to overcome anxiety and mental health issues has discovered a way to heal himself and others and reconnect with his culture.
It’s coming up three years since ACC launched Rongoā Māori as a treatment option and the organisation has just gone past 35,000 sessions.
Northland man Nikau Munroe-Rawiri uses rongoā Māori to overcome anxiety and mental health issues, and his study into rongoā Māori has helped change his life.
“I’ve learned not only how to heal people, but I have learned my reo, I have learned my whakapapa, I have learned my connections to the land, I have learned my connections to the gods – ngā atua,” he said.
He said ACC’s support of rongoā Māori gives it more credibility.
“Our people need to remove the thought process that rongoā Māori is our alternative. It should be the first form of healing that we seek,” Munroe-Rawiri said.
He loves being on his whenua [land]: “It is healing and restoring for me. It fills my cup, which allows me to give more of myself to whatever I’m pursuing.”
After growing up in a Pākehā world, Munroe-Rawiri (Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa, Te Waiariki, Ngātiwai) has been on a journey to find himself. The waka [vehicle] to get him there has been his study of rongoā Māori.
Munroe-Rawiri spends time in the middle of the ngahere [forest] in Te Tai Tokerau [Northland] centring himself.
He can hear the native tūī, he can feel the warmth of the sun on his skin, and his deliberate breathing slows everything down. There is nowhere else he’d rather be.
The 21-year-old, from the Rangikohu Marae in Herekino, has been on a journey of finding himself. Breathing has helped him awaken his wairua [spirit] and mauri [life energy].
“Being back on my whenua is where I feel the strongest connection,” he said.
“It is healing and restoring for me. It fills my cup, which allows me to give more of myself to whatever I’m pursuing.”
Munroe-Rawiri left his job of two years to study and pursue a journey to reconnect with what he believes to be one of the most powerful forms of rongoā Māori – breathing.
“I’m currently studying and experimenting with breathwork and how I can share this profound rongoā with our people,” he said.
Munroe-Rawiri is qualified with a diploma in rongoā Māori. He has plenty of lived experience of seeing the benefits of rongoā Māori in his friends and his whānau.
It was isolating growing up in a Pākehā world, and over time it caused him mental health issues and anxiety. It was ruining his life.
“I am someone who is still learning to control my emotions,” he said.
“I used to have an agitated mind. It was running 24/7, all day, every day. My nights were restless because my mind was in the past or the future. It was constantly running, it was agitated. Breathwork helped to calm me down.”
Rongoā Māori encompasses various traditional Māori healing methodologies, including mirimiri [bodywork], whitiwhiti kōrero [support and advice] and karakia [prayer].
It can also include waiata [song] or having kai [food].
For Munroe-Rawiri, rongoā Māori is a way of living for his tūpuna [ancestors].
He said that there has been a perception that rongoā Māori pertains strictly to plant medicine.
“For me, I have always challenged that thought, or that whakaaro. For me, rongoā Māori is anything that helps to uplift your mauri.”
■ As of April 2023, ACC had partnered with 148 rongoā practitioners (from Kaitāia to Stewart Island) to deliver over 35,000 rongoā sessions for 4,864 kiritaki [clients].
In Northland, 2,578 sessions have been delivered to support 304 kiritaki.