How Māori use maramataka to care for mental health issues and how the practice will be incorporated into treatment by Māori Health Authority

Māori are well known for using the stars and the moon to navigate across the ocean in their waka.

Not so well known to non-Māori is their tradition of using the moon and stars to help treat mental health issues.

It's called maramataka and will be incorporated into treatment by the new Māori Health Authority.

Rereata Makiha is on a mission to share ancestral knowledge with the next generation.

He's an expert on maramataka Māori, or the Māori lunar calendar, and forecasting based on the moon cycles, star systems, tides, and the environment.

"The maramataka helps you, helps us to predict when things are going to happen, to tell us when the fish are going to run, when the eels are going to run - all those sorts of things," he said.

"When you understand it a lot it's a brilliant guide on when you should be doing certain things."

Rikki Solomon teaches at-risk rangatahi and whānau how to use maramataka for improving mental health and knowing when to spend time doing certain activities in nature or around whanau.

"If we find that a whanau has had a low time or they may feel low, what we use is the maramataka to identify their cycles, their highs, and their lows," Solomon said.

"What we observe in those low areas is what are some rituals at that time. And what I mean about rituals is what is the environment that they can connect to, because our environment is our biggest healer."

Māori have the highest suicide rates of all ethnic groups in New Zealand. Mental distress among Māori is almost 50 percent higher than non-Māori and 30 percent are more likely to be left undiagnosed.

In 2018, Solomon and Makiha correlated a decade of coronial suicide data with a Māori lunar calendar and found that many suicides occurred on the new moon and the full moon - 35 percent on the new moon and 16 percent on the full moon.

"When someone is going through conflict at that time, we have to observe them and teach whānau that we have to be mindful and observe when there has been conflict and that we are watching them in the next few days and after. And we can use this in many areas," Solomon said.

The new Māori Health Authority has a budget of half a billion dollars and CEO Riana Manuel has allocated $100 million of that to support centuries-old treatments.

"Connecting people back to those spaces and places that have been long forgotten is certainly something that will be investing in," Manuel said.

Just like they do with Matariki, Māori use maramataka as a way of reading the cosmos to prepare for what's coming.

"It's a way of rebuilding the body, your wairua, and rebuilding your energy and getting prepared for the high energy days ahead," Makiha said.

"So it goes in waves like that and if people understand it and go back to that rather than rush, rush, rush every day, I think that's what drives a lot of the ill-health."

This article is part of Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air