An Elixir for the Soul

Last Sunday night, I travelled up to Motuweka/Motueka to take part in the launch of Waka Whenua.   

On my Dad’s side I have ancestors lying in the family cemetery at Lower Moutere Valley, in Motuweka itself and Riuwaka/Riwaka.   The stories are very familiar to me of my grandmother, one of fourteen, growing up on the orchard at Flett’s Corner.    Monday was washday; the copper was started early in the morning and kept on the boil until the last wash was out on the line drying.  The ironing would be done at night with the old flat irons heating on the wood range.   Everyone had a job: shoe cleaning (fifteen pairs) on a Saturday.   Cracking seashells for grit, for the fowls to eat to harden their eggshells.  Sweeping the hard earth pathways.

It was also time of giving.  The children would take baskets of food up the bracken hillsides for the loners who lived out of sight.  Swaggers looking for work were given a place to sleep in the barn overnight and would come in for a hearty breakfast before setting off on their way.    It was common to have twenty or more young people for tea.  My great grandfather used to say he always noticed one missing, but never noticed extras.

It’s funny, but whenever I hit State Highway 60 those stories float into my thoughts; they are a powerful association of the strength of whānau; the expression of manaaki; the joy of sharing.


And so it was very special to be in the company of three wonderful sisters: Kathy, Julie and Tracey at the launch of their ipu whenua; at Te Whare Taikura o Te Maatu; Motueka High School.


It was a wonderful night to celebrate their enterprise in creating a fully biodegradable, eco-friendly, leak-proof, purposeful container to host the placenta – the whenua tapu.   Throughout the launch we heard some heart-rendering stories about te whare kōhanga; the birthing hut.


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Against the backdrop of the koauau, Matua Moeke Paaka spoke on the role of men in the birthing process; the unique compositions that would be made to mark the birth of a new mokopuna, the ways the babies would be studied to reveal their own special character.


It was at that launch that I was introduced to a rather fabulous term by Antonia Fox: an elixir for the soul.  An elixir is an old term for the sweet syrup of a medicine that soothes the pain and helps the healing.

It is a concept I have been thinking about a great deal this week, in the amazing range of ways that whānau across Te Waipounamu have reached out to lift the spirits of those who have been affected the most through the recent earthquakes.   There was the team at Awarua Whānau Services who poured their love into baking tins; pallets of fried bread arriving to share with whānau evacuees.   

Photo 1: Jolene Marinui and Matua Norm Dewes at Checkpoint Cheviot

Photo 2: The 62 volunteers who dropped everything to travel up to Kaikoura and help in the kitchen, to knock on doors and check out how whānau were, to clean, to stock up on supplies.



There was the team from Maata Waaka who were up at the crack of dawn, driving up to Cheviot to ferry the whānau evacuated from Kaikoura back to Tuahiwi Marae.   There were all the volunteers and Whānau Ora Navigators at Tuahiwi, helping to provide support for whānau, to sort out some clothing, some care packs, some kai, some time to listen.

There was Kara’s team based at Cheviot, that friendly face to greet whānau off the helicopters and see them on their way.

Of course along the way there have been some fantastic stories as well.   The powhiri that took place in the middle of the chaos – Charisma weaving the word ‘wakatopatopa’ into her karanga; the mercy mission from the skies that dropped off KFC, McDs and other healthy options; the extent to which some went to in order to share a helicopter with Richie McCaw; and the team at Te Puna Oranga having a bit of a dress-up day, with some of surplus clothing donated to them to support whānau seeking help.


Dress ups were also the order of the day at the recent Whānau Fun Day hosted by Whenua Kura: Oranga Pamu.   Hemi Dawson’s eldest daughter, Cahalan Dawson, joined in the fun and fantasy of face-painting during the day.


It’s been a big week for Whenua Kura.  They’ve hosted ten rangatahi who are interested in enrolling on the programme – they visited the Lodge at Te Whenua Hou where they will live, and spent time on the Waimakariri farm with Chris Eruera – farm manager.   They hosted Industry Big Day Out in partnership with 25 teachers, helping to promote life down on the farm.


The vision for Whenua Kura is to get whānau back on the land; to be economically secure; culturally engaged, socially connected and environmentally sustainable

And so I return to this word elixir.  

Breaking news on the Whenua Kura front is that from January 2017 there will be a level three Certificate in Apiculture.   In a response to the rapidly growing mānuka honey industry a new one year course is being offered.  Is there anything more visually soothing than to think about sweet, thick golden honey to heal hoarseness; to calm the nerves, to sip and let the goodness in.   

That’s what we all need now and then: an elixir for the soul which grants us peace, which reminds us of the warmth of home.   My hope for Whānau Ora is that our initiatives, our navigators, our coaches, our team provide that source of sustenance to remind whānau of all that is important; everything that is precious in their life.   Mauriora!



Luke EganComment