As a pre-Pharmacy student, I am interested in all types of medication and how they work. Learning that Maori, the native people of New Zealand, rely heavily on plants for medicinal uses really made me want to learn more about the types of plants they use, how they use the plants, and all the symptoms they are able to treat.
Rongoa, traditional Maori medicine, never distinguished religion and science, as they saw the two as one entity. Therefore, they saw illnesses to be caused by supernatural causes. Maori healers, tohunga, were the most intelligent students trained in the whare wananga, known as the house of learning. The tohunga were healers, as well as priestly experts, who had a good concept of anatomy, physiology, and the use of plants. Tohunga would use spiritual healing and herbal medicines but they saw no distinction between the two. They believed the use of one treatment without the other would not be effective.
The Maori used over 200 different types of plants for many different purposes. Most plants had many different uses which could treat different illnesses or symptoms.
A very common image of a young child feeding a tohunga. Tohunga were very important to the tribes of the Maori people. So important that the young children learning under them would feed them off a stick. This would prevent the tohunga from touching the food encase it was affected by tapu or so the child was not affected. Tapu is a spiritual entity the Maori believed in that revolved around the sanctity and respect for people but it can have dangerous manifestations. Tohunga possessed strong spiritual powers. This caused many tribal members to fear them due to contact with them being potentially, very dangerous.