Date of Thesis

Spring 2020


Drawing on contemporary anthropological approaches used by scholars of well-being and medical anthropology (i.e. Michael Jackson and Lisa Stevenson), I explore how indigenous healers in New Zealand blend “traditional” and “modern” elements to establish a creative and inclusive system. Specifically, I explore the use of herbal treatments, ritual chanting, and ceremonies that encapsulate Māori cultural values. I also explore the impact of biomedicine and New-Age wellness approaches on indigenous healing. I argue that Māori healing moves beyond the binary of “tradition” and “modern” as healers merge the past and present and combine the foreign and native. My research is based on published scholarly literature, participant observation I conducted during my semester abroad in Dunedin, New Zealand in Spring 2019, and semi-structured recorded interviews with tohunga (indigenous Māori healers). During my five-month stay, I spoke with tohunga, experienced indigenous ceremonies and karakia (ritual chanting) first-hand, and attended the Christchurch Healing Expo where I shadowed a Māori healer during a mirimiri (sacred ritual massage). My research demonstrates that it is impossible to fully separate Māori healing from other wellness systems because “indigenous” healing has always incorporated healing practices from other cultures. My honors thesis addresses the historical and cultural origins of Māori healing practices, how these practices integrate in contemporary society, as well as how the indigenous population perceives health. This research contributes to the anthropological study of wellness by reevaluating the meaning of “indigenous” healing and identity in contemporary New Zealand.


well-being, health, indigenous, anthropology, Maori, New Zealand

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts



Second Major


First Advisor

Michelle C. Johnson

Second Advisor

Edmund Searles