Te Whakaora i te Hauora Hinengaro

Mental health and illness treatment from a Māori perspective
E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea
I will never be lost, for I am a seed sewn from Rangiātea.

This kōrero is about remembering how connected we all are – to everyone and everything, to the past, present and future. We can find healing within ourselves and through the use of the ancient resources handed down to us. 

Healing practices within Te Ao Māori

Māori approaches to mental health treatment and care reflect the holistic nature of Te Ao Māori. There are many tools that we can use that are as old as the creation stories themselves, including our language, our prayers, our songs, our stories and our natural healing practices like mirimiri (massage) and rongoā (use of natural medicines). All of these tools are drawn from our traditional knowledge systems – mātauranga Māori. 

An introduction to an understanding of mental health from a Māori perspective can be found here. Here we will introduce some healing practices found within Te Ao Māori and how you can use them in your own life, with your whānau or those around you who may need some extra support. 

We encourage you to use this only as a guideline, and to reach out to those in your own whānau, hapū, iwi or communities who may have knowledge or skills to support your needs. We do not underestimate the severity of anyone’s situation or needs and therefore always encourage you to seek any professional or cultural support necessary.

You may have heard of the ‘DSM’ (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This is a guidebook that describes mental health conditions ranging from anxiety and mood disorders to substance-related disorders and many more The DSM is used by clinicians and other mental health professionals to diagnose mental health disorders. It can be helpful and provide some clarity for some people who find diagnoses help to explain their experiences and access clinical help. However, from a Māori perspective, we know that there are some things that people experience the DSM cannot explain. Concepts such as wairuatanga and mauri, described here, are an example.

The following information might be helpful for you to learn about and use in your own life to improve the mental health and wellbeing of yourself or those who you support.

Mātauranga Māori/Māori bodies of knowledge

It is really important to know what mātauranga Māori is, as this will help you to understand what Te Ao Māori healing tools are based on. 

Mātauranga Māori can be described as a well-connected system of Māori knowledge. There are many layers to this system, including language itself, cosmology (origin of the world), culture and science. Many whānau, hapū and iwi will have slightly different versions or hold different pieces of the puzzle. However, we all recognise that there is a spiritual and whakapapa connection that binds us all to each other and to the natural world around us. A bit like, “We are mātauranga Māori and mātauranga Māori is us.” It is found both within us and all around us. Mātauranga Māori is both ancient and new. It is the known and unknown, the seen and unseen. 

Mātauranga Māori spans all areas, from arts to health, culture, sciences, technology, education and beyond.

How does mātauranga Māori apply to mental health?

Mātauranga Māori actually takes the “mental” out of mental health. This means that we look at our health as a whole – all the parts that keep us well. One of the most important ways we do this is by understanding our connection to the taiao, our environment. This can include nature itself, but also the spaces we live, work and play in. It also means we look at things that have happened in the past, and even within our whakapapa. Mātauranga Māori is the foundation of knowledge that we source our healing from. 

Pūrākau/Traditional stories

Our traditional pūrākau have been passed down from generation to generation through our oral history. A pūrākau you may be familiar with is the story of Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother). 

Ka pō, ka ao, ka awatea. Tihē mauri ora!
From the darkness, to the light and the breaking of the new day, alas, the breath of life! 

There was a tight loving embrace of Ranginui (atua/god of the skies) and Papatūānuku (atua/god of the earth). In this embrace were Ranginui and Papatūānuku’s children. Before Tāne Māhuta separated his parents, there was a lot of discussion and debate that took place between the children. Eventually they were born into the light of day, and each took their place within their natural domains. 

This is a very brief version of the creation story; however, as you dig deeper into the story and its many layers, you will find “kurahuna”, or treasured insights. These insights can help us to not only understand ourselves better, but also understand how we see the world and how we live in it. Pūrākau can help us reflect, and we can even use them as tools for healing whānau – by connecting to different characteristics, roles and responsibilities of different atua. 

Every whānau, hapū and iwi will have different versions of the creation story, so we encourage you to do some research of your own – as you uncover kōrero, you will discover more and more about yourself and how helpful this knowledge can be to your own whānau. 

Here are some questions you can ask or research about the creation stories:

  • Why did the children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku want to separate their parents? 
  • Which of the children were against the separation, and why?
  • What is important about Rūaumoko’s story? 
  • What natural domains do each of the atua now live in?

As you discover the many layers to these stories, you will learn about the atua and how you can connect to them in your everyday life. We can do this by spending time in our natural environment and acknowledging the atua who reside there, and we can also do this through karakia.

Karakia/rituals and incantations

Te Reo Māori itself is healing. Listening, learning and speaking Te Reo Māori is a way to strengthen your identity. Learning Te Reo Māori:

  • Helps you to create connections – this is whanaungatanga.
  • Encourages compassion – this is aroha.
  • Ensures tikanga Māori thrives – this is manaakitanga.

Karakia is one tikanga or practice of Te Ao Māori that finds a place in many gatherings or hui today. 

Traditionally, Māori had a range of karakia types that would be used for a specific purpose, at a specific time and place. It is important to know what karakia you are reciting and where it comes from, as this will keep you (and your kaupapa) safe.

Karakia and our mental wellbeing

Karakia allow us to connect to wairua, to our tīpuna (ancestors), to atua Māori and to the environment around us. They can support our wellbeing and have true healing powers. In a practical sense, karakia can support us to be present and alert; they can prepare us for the task, challenge or space ahead; they can open or clear spiritual pathways; they can provide protection and safe transition between spaces; and they can allow us access to tīpuna and atua to draw strength from. 

Here is an example of a karakia that can be used in almost any context. It acknowledges not only mauri that we source from outside ourselves, but also the mauri we can draw on within ourselves. 

Manawa mai te mauri nuku
Manawa mai te mauri rangi
Ko te mauri kei au
He mauri tipua
Ka pakaru mai te pō
Tau mai te mauri
Haumi e, hui e, taiki e!

Gather the life force of the earth
Gather the life force of the sky
The life force within us is powerful
And shatters all darkness
It settles all within me
Bind it, come together, it is done!

Thank you to Sutherland Self-Help Trust for helping us bring this content to you.