Te ropu o te ora
The achievements of the Women's Health League
During the 1930s the health of Māori women and children in the Rotorua area was in a dire state.
Hariata Paikea, leader of the Women’s Health League, recalls how bad things were.
“Our people and babies were dying, the sanitation was poor, our homes had no water or sewerage, our babies, the mortality rate was so high. I can feel their tears today.”
Help came with the arrival of a Scottish nurse called Robina Cameron. “Hope arrived in the early 1930s when Kamerana, the little Pākehā nurse, visited us in her Model T Ford and hoiho (horse).” In 1937 Nurse Cameron and a large gathering of women met at Tūnohopū Meeting House and formed the Arawa Women’s Health League. Its aim was to improve the health of Māori women and children. Because of her respect for Māori tikanga, Nurse Cameron was given the name “Kamerana” – a term of endearment and acceptance. She also consulted with the Te Arawa elders, and had their support in the kaupapa of the work.
Branches of the Health League were set up around the Rotorua Lakes and as far south as Reporoa. Each with their own president, secretary and treasurer, the branches held gatherings to teach local women health, hygiene and home making. They also encouraged gardening. While they had much fun and laughter, the women shared the grief of losing mothers too young and of sons killed at war. Whānau was everything for these women.
In her book about the League, Dr Laurie Morrison says, “There is no doubt that the Women’s Health League, by its very persistence, kept the government agencies aware of the urgency of changing its housing policy”.
Women also banded together to raise funds for the building of the Janet Fraser Guest House. This accommodation was set up for Māori from out of town, who were visiting their whānau in hospital. It was necessary because Māori were turned away from Pākehā hotels.
The Women’s Health League continues today in nine branches, their mahi taking cues from the past, but also looking to a changed future.
Qualities: wellbeing, diligence, relationships
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About Dr Laurie Morrison, author of a book about Te Arawa Women’s Health League:
About one of the league’s early members, singer, composer and entertainer Merekotia Amohau of Ngāti Pikiao:
Te Ropu o te Ora: The Founding of the Te Arawa Women’s Health League, 1937
(Dr Laurie Morrison)