Rongoā lessons from the heart

Rongoā lessons from the heart

20 December 2019

When Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki Mirimiri practitioner Val Yeates was little, she used to get woken up by her whangai grandmother “Mumma Sue Williams”, alongside her cousin Phyllis and taken into the bush. 

They were not allowed to eat until they returned and were only allowed to have a wash and drink water before they left.

“We were never told why, we just did not eat until we had finished what we went in for,” Val recalls. “We’d always be back for lunch and the other kids would laugh because we hadn’t eaten. We thought we were being punished, but of course, now I know we were being taught.”

Val says Mumma Sue would take the pair to the edge of the bush and leave them there while she gathered her harvest, coming back a few hours later with a kete full of plants.

“We had to be quiet,” Val says. “Mumma Sue would speak to the bush and then she would leave us with ‘family’ and we’d touch the plants, sit against them, tune in and feel things – Phyllie saw things and I could feel things. We gave name to plants as we understood them to be. It took a while but that’s how Phyllis and I learned together.” 

Val says Mamma Sue never taught them the name of the plants nor read from any books and Val says that never worried her.

“If I went into the bush, I just knew what I needed,” she says. “The fantail would come and off we’d go and that’s how I harvested for years.”

She says they received the significance of their names from the plants themselves.

“You didn’t question why, because that was questioning them, so you just accept you’d feel the energy or see it,” she says. 

Val says rongoā teaches people to listen to their bodies. “You always know when to stop, because you start feeling that you don’t need anymore -  and that’s your body telling you that you’ve now reached the point you’re ready to heal without it, you yourself now need to step up and take a long look and move forward.

“We are, the rongoā are, we all are, of the same family, just in different forms. There is also the higher realm of knowledge looking over and after you. If you doubt how you expect their help - if you don’t believe it will help you, then it definitely won’t.”

Val stopped working with plants in her teens. 

“It took me being really sick and my mum, Vida Yeates, to fully understand, that “walking the rhythm of not eating and just drinking and allowing the body to rest and clean before filling it once more was wiser and slower, with more chewing then filling.”

She mostly kept her gift quiet after she married, only calling on some of the remedies when her children were young.

Her pathway changed, however, when she met Irone Cooke while training as a Mirimiri practitioner 20 years ago. At the time, Irone was working at Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki as a Mirimiri practitioner. The pair got talking and Val was soon making her special bush balms.

It wasn’t long before she came into contact with whaea Janey Poutu at Te Korowai, who, recognising that Val harboured a true gift of knowledge, was soon steering her towards an official rongoā course.

“I still didn’t know the names of the plants I worked with and Janey told me that if I wanted to join Te Korowai I needed to get the names of the plants right,” Val says.

Both Val and Irone trained with Rob McGowan ``Pa Ropata” in Tauranga, who is employed by the University of Waikato as Education Officer and by Nga Whenua Rahui.

Val says the three of them had a vision to bring rongoā into Te Korowai and held their first workshop in 2002. “It started back then as a dream – three of us sharing the knowledge we all had.”                                                                                        

While Irone and Whaea Janey have both since passed, Val has continued to work at Te Korowai for the past 13 years as Mirimiri practitioner, and this year started her first Rongoā workshops within the kaumātua rōpū group in Coromandel.

"They are not just my workshops, they are our workshops,” Val says. "It's about being as one alongside kaumātua, teaching and, at the same time, sharing knowledge. 

“We have our older kuia honouring the pronunciation of names, others bringing in their knowledge and sharing that knowledge.”

She says the group learns to identify plants they can take without harming themselves and what the plants can do internally and externally working with the full body system.

“If you put all the plants together, they work in harmony as you weave different rongoā in the body. When we are all working together as a family, we weave a pattern, and these are safe patterns for mind, body and soul.”

Val puts out a huge thanks to her ‘boss’, Poukura Oranga Manager Public and Community Health Services Debbie Petersen-Pilcher, who she says has enabled Val, Irone and Janey's dream to flow higher once again.

“I know Janey and Irone are with me in this journey.”  

 Jo Belworthy

Current News

Doctor fears virus keeping people away

2 April 2020

By Alison Mau

Stuff - March 31

A rural GP fears people with serious medical conditions are staying away from their doctor because of coronavirus.

Dr Martin Mikaere, who works at Te Korowai clinic in Thames, says his clinic treats about 15 heart attacks a month in normal circumstances and a similar number of strokes and complications from diabetes.

However, he's concerned those people are now staying away, either from fear of coronavirus, or because they don't want to be a burden.

"Covid-19 is a problem, however the stuff we see is not going to dry up and go away. I really want people to know their GP is here, the service is the same, it just looks a little bit different," he said.

In Auckland, Waitematā District Health Board general manager of primary care Matt Hannant said it was important people still reached out to their GP for any non-coronavirus health concerns.

They should also go to the emergency department when they needed to, he said.

"Over recent days, we have seen a pattern of people presenting to EDs at a very late stage when they are seriously ill. The message we want people to hear is that it is still okay to access the hospital ED before health concerns become critical."

Mikaere is entering his fourth straight week of work without a break. His clinic has the only Covid-19 testing station on the Coromandel Peninsula and has tested about 70 people, with 10 recording positive results.

One person had been hospitalised but had since recovered, he said.

He said the nationwide lockdown had been difficult for his mostly-Māori community, especially for grieving families as most marae had closed and tangihanga were not an option for most.

New regulations for tangihanga restrict mourners to those in the deceased person's "bubble". They are permitted to attend funeral directors' premises, but if their loved one died away from home, they would have to be buried in the area they died or cremated for burial closer to home later.

"It sounds pretty heartbreaking. A lot of the time now, [people] are being buried by relative strangers," Mikaere said.

"People are saying, maybe keep your loved one at home for a couple of days. Once you send them on the embalmers, you probably can't see them again."

He said people opting to do this would need to make sure police were contacted.

Mental health was also a major concern in the lockdown, Mikaere said.

Patients with serious depression usually came to see him because "someone they're close to has identified there's a problem".

However, that was less likely to happen now because people were in close contact with fewer friends and family members, he said.

"We're encouraging people to use that 1737 national helpline number, and for people to check in on each other. Do phone a friend and do have a Zoom chat or FaceTime.

"That's how I'm doing a lot of my consultations and it's really lovely to see people's faces. It helps build the reserves that you need to get through."

See article here DR MIKAERE - STUFF


Tangihanga and Funeral guidelines

31 March 2020

COVID-19 – _Kua rāhui te motu 

Ministry of Health

Tangihanga – a need to adapt our practises during this extraordinary time. 

Bereaved families and whānau from all cultures and backgrounds will find this challenging. This makes it even more important that we show each other kindness and caring, manaakitanga and aroha.

Already iwi and hapū have been adapting tikanga and kawa to keep our people safe. This has also been extended to tangihanga.

There are now strict rules put in place during Alert Level 4 for when loved ones have passed away. These rules apply to everyone, every culture, every religion.

We support the advice and guidelines shared by Te Ropū Whakakaupapa Urutā (The National Māori Pandemic Group) on tikanga, hui and tangihanga for Alert Level 4.

This means: 

  • No public funeral services whatsoever
  • No tangihanga at our marae, funeral homes, churches and other venues
  • No private whānau tangihanga at home.

For more information, please follow this link 

Tangihanga guidelines






Health foods to boost immune system

30 March 2020

By Claire Canon – Dietitian 

The world has changed and everyone I talk to is worried about getting COVID-19, I can also see the ramp up of home remedies appearing on Facebook. 

Lets be clear everyone, garlic probably wont ward off COVID-19 like it does vampires. Washing your hands, staying away if you are sick and calling Healthline if you are worried are your first steps. In saying that, what you eat does influence your immune system and it seems prudent to have a strong one over the next while. 

Vitamin C: This helps support immunity and is present in all of your brightly coloured fruit and veggies- apples, pears, berries, greens, pumpkin, kumara, citrus, tomatoes, kiwifruit etc. Herbs are also a great source like parsley, thyme and mint. Raw is best for vitamin C, but cooked is OK too. 

Zinc: Helpful for preventing colds - this is found in red meat, shellfish, eggs, lentils, beans, chickpeas. 

Fermented foods: These keep your immune system up to date with whats going on in the world of microbes so have a bit more yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha or kefir if you can still get it.

Ginger, turmeric and garlic:  Your partner might not love you if you eat raw garlic but your immune system will. Along with ginger, garlic is very anti-microbial and immune-boosting. Go easy on the raw garlic though as it does burn a bit, maybe mix it into a dressing and make your own ginger tea by putting slices of ginger root into hot water. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory spice regularly used in Indian cooking

Manuka honey: Manuka honey is great for sore throats and is antimicrobial. 

So dont worry about stocking up on toilet paper next time you hit the supermarket, grab some fruit and veggies instead, fresh or frozen its all good! Be well out there. 


COVID-19 Update March 27

27 March 2020

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