Maraea Karaitiana showed several of her handmade products, including her hand sanitiser. PHOTOS/ARTHUR HAWKES

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

A presentation on Wednesday at Te Hauora Runanga o Wairarapa, Masterton’s Maori community health service, showed how plants and trees found throughout Wairarapa could be turned into te rongoa Maori [traditional Maori medicine] for the community.

Piki Anderson talked about her balms made with kawakawa, titoki, purukamu [blue gum], and pitau [fern shoot].

After a hui, where this information was shared – and the products themselves were tested, sniffed, prodded, and passed around, 100 care packages full with medicines and treatments, handmade by Piki Anderson and Maraea Karaitiana, were presented to four Maori groups, which included Ngati Kahungunu and Rangitane, to then pass forward to people in their communities.

Te Hauora chief executive Ronald Karaitiana said the presentation was spurred by a desire to help connect Maori with natural medicines after the covid-19 lockdown, where several people had benefited from natural medicines during a period where GPs had become much less accessible.

Ronald also spoke on the actions of those dropping off care packages and checking in with vulnerable people in the community during the lockdown.

“We discovered that lockdown really did mean lockdown, and we can’t say thank you enough – not only did you go the extra mile, you gave support when it was most needed.”

Ronald called rongoa Maori “a big part of who we are, and a big part of what we do”.

One of the kawakawa balms.

“We are learning where things come from, and that we can source them within our own gardens.”

Maraea then talked to the group about her purukamu [blue gum eucalyptus] bath and how to steep and extract the essence of the gum from the leaves.

She detailed how to use it in a hot bath to open up the lungs, cleanse the skin, and loosen the joints – knowledge passed down to her from her mother.

Each of the 100 care packages contained a bottle of Maraea’s extraction.

She also cited the expertise of Dr Dougal Thorburn, a GP who combined rongoa Maori with Western medicine, as a major influence and someone she thought represented how rongoa Maori could be incorporated more widely.

Piki Anderson then took the floor and spoke about her balms, cough medicines, bath mixes, and throat sprays – things she had learned to perfect over the past two-and-a-half years, through her own research and through the expertise of Rob McGowan [Pa Ropata], a former priest and renowned rongoa Maori practitioner.

One of the 100 Te Hauora care packages.

From soothing pitau ointments, to a manuka and kawakawa throat spray, to a lemon and honey cough medicine, Anderson had prepared countless products [including more than 600 individual balms] in the months leading up to the presentation, all of which were included in the packages.

She gave several practical tips about how to deal with plant matter in a safe and hygienic way, particularly with ingested medicines, but also spoke on the spiritual importance when using traditional methods and ingredients from the whenua.

“I always karakia [prayer to invoke spiritual guidance] whenever I am making, it is so important to us that we are connected to the land, and to the spirits in the land.”