Healing Hands

Awhina Motutere is a practitioner of rongoā Māori — the art of Māori healing.

Awhina Motutere is a practitioner of rongoā Māori — the art of Māori healing, with her work encompassing her Ngātahi retreats and Lua,
a line of skincare and remedies. 

Awhina Motutere’s classroom smells of the sweet and slightly bitter aroma of kawakawa.
It’s a calm, open space where she teaches rongoā Māori — the art of Māori healing.

The practice of rongoā Māori is very old, but Awhina (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungunu) herself
is thoroughly modern. She’s a consummate traveller who has lived and worked in Israel, the Middle East, the Far East and South America, and has a degree in naturopathy and a Diploma in Herbal Medicine. Now, she is home in Tauranga Moana, teaching rongoā Māori and sharing her wisdom through one-on-one appointments, small groups, workshops and healing retreats.

How long have you been practicing rongoā?

Rongoā Māori is the way I was brought up and it was present in many different aspects of my life. Rongoā is about everything — it’s a whole unique holistic healing system that doesn’t need anything else apart from itself. Rongoā doesn’t fit into a box, it’s a whole universe.

How old do you think the system is?

If I look at the whakapapa (genealogy) of mirimiri (traditional Māori massage) — the symbol is actually an Egyptian hieroglyph. I think it’s old, well before us. I feel it is celestial. Because of what some Māori believe, it’s in our cosmology, our purakau (stories), karakia (prayers), incantations.

Do you think rongoā has something to offer the world?

Absolutely. There’s something really healing about Aotearoa New Zealand. We have so much to
offer in the form of bringing people back to complete wellness. Rongoā Māori practitioners look
at the entirety of who you are — your whole universe. All physical symptoms come from a disease that could be mental, spiritual, environmental or whānau related. That’s why I like to go to people’s houses. I’m an energetic person and can pick up on a lot of things. If I’m going to someone’s home from a naturopathic viewpoint, I look in the cupboards and see what they fuel themselves with.
It gives better insight to who a person is. And when they’re comfortable in their own space they’re able to let go of a lot more.

Herbs such as mānuka, korowa and taraire are made into mixes specifically for individual needs.

Tell me about the genealogy of trees and plant medicine

In our creation stories there is a song called Te Pu that talks about the first root and the genealogy
of how things came into being, how energy is manifested. How we all start at the same place, but
all choose different directions.

All plant medicine is similar, but each system is for that country, because what grows in our environment is what we need. You’ve got to be in touch with yourself to be able to connect with
mauri (life force); to ask whether that plant is going to be useful for you, you need to connect to
be able to activate that rākau (tree, plant).

For each rākau you have a specific takutaku (recitation), which is said while you’re harvesting —
this is what activates the mauri. In order to connect to mauri we use sound — vibration, karakia, or you might have a taonga pūoro (instrument) or a stick.

Is your name ‘Awhina’ significant in your career path as a healer?

Awhina means ‘the helper’, to care for, to caress. When my grandmother was young, she got sick
and my great grandmother took her to the Rātana Church for faith healing. All of the people that
help inside the Rātana Church are called Awhina; my grandmother and great grandmother were called Awhina inside Rātana spaces. When I was born my father changed it to Te Awhina. I am
a helper, but my father changed it because my grandmother had been very ill, so he redirected
the energy a little bit.

Tell me about your skincare range, Lua

Lua started when I went to South America with my husband. We went to Machu Picchu and climbed Huayna Picchu. On the side of this mountain was Temple of the Moon (Templo de Lua)  — there was
a rock chair and we sat there, and I imagined that if you were there when the moon came out, it would’ve been phenomenal. That’s where the name is from.

People think they’re buying a serum but it’s so much more — it has aspects of the sea, of the ngahere (forest), of me — all the different things go into it. You’re receiving healing without really knowing. I do some herbal remedies and a couple are very popular with international buyers so that tells me something — that people need our medicine.

“Rongoā is about everything — it’s a whole unique holistic healing system that doesn’t need anything else apart from itself.”
Tell us about the healing workshops and retreats offered by Ngātahi

In the retreats, people will get a basic understanding of the foundations of rongoā Māori. I try to do the workshops in places where you are completely cut off from the outside world — there’s no mobile phone, no internet, nothing. It’s just quiet.

What we are essentially doing is connecting with ourselves. We’re letting it all go, whether we are
with a bunch of people, or one on one. We are learning to reconnect. I help by doing body work
or sometimes I am just listening — a lot of people just want to be heard. They don’t need to go and
do meditation, they just need someone to listen.

The mirimiri is in the kōrero (conversation), when people are talking everything that needs healing comes to the surface. When they have finished talking, I put them on the table and then, depending on where the body is in that present moment and how much the body is willing to let go of, they release. Sometimes I have people that will talk for two hours and when I have people like that it means that they need more, and then they come back again until the work is done.

I don’t like having people build a dependency on me, they need to do the actual work. It’s like peeling an onion. For a bespoke retreat, I go into depth with people about what they want. Some people are on a wellness journey, some have had surgery and they want their friends to be with them on their journey. Sometimes it’s getting the girls together — saunas, spas, body work, eating rongoā kai (mostly plant based); some women want to do detoxing.

The people who come to my retreats will learn from my perspective; I will build the foundations for people to get an understanding of what they are stepping into. Stepping into yourself is a massive journey. I work on myself all the time. People come to a workshop because they are looking for transformation and I am there to assist them on their path.

Any other thoughts to share?

The Western way doesn’t teach you about the wairua (spirit), the mauri. It’s not a holistic view. It’s literally physical, not taking into consideration mind, body, family — all of the things that make us
who we are. I used to often fall out with my teachers, because it wasn’t the way I was raised. Rongoā Māori is 89 per cent wairuatanga — your spirituality.

It’s also in the stories; in rongoā Māori we talk about creation stories and whakapapa — we don’t know who we are if we don’t know who we come from. The takeaway is how people’s lives will change. Rongoā Māori is about finding yourself.

lua.co.nz For information on Ngātahi, visit lua.co.nz/pages/ngatahi-offerings
As told to Loretta Crawford
Photography by Katie Cox