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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Medicine Man of Rarotonga

Follow Ric Coggin’s Journey Through Cancer…

By Ric Coggins

When I was confronted in mid-2017 with a serious cancer diagnosis that allopathic medicine only had limited and harsh treatment options for, I knew that I had to quickly become my own expert on the subject of me and my health. It was my life, and only I was ultimately responsible for the decisions to be made, as to how I would find my way back to health. With that in mind, I left no stone unturned in my pursuit of a cure.

Indigenous Healing Traditions

Under one very interesting, colorful rock, I found the subject of what I call “indigenous healing traditions.” Its practitioners, known as shamans, witchdoctors or sometimes more aptly medicine men, combine traditions of using native plant compounds as “pharmaceuticals,” and a spiritual awareness to treat the “whole” person. 

Mostly passed over by the arrogance of Western medicine and Western religious beliefs, “the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater” by these institutions. Because of that, the body of knowledge possessed by medicine men around the world has been largely ignored at best and ridiculed at worst. Due to my own Western upbringing, I had pretty much dismissed this source of healing as well. It wasn’t until I was at the crossroads of life and death myself that I opened my mind to this aspect of medicine.

Filmmaker Nick Polizzi calls this branch of medicine “The Sacred Science.” After being left alongside the road to suffer by Western medicine himself, Polizzi stumbled into the mysteries of shamanism and pursued his health via altered states of consciousness, induced by drums and sacred plant medicines. His book and film by the same name, The Sacred Science: An Ancient Healing Path for the Modern World, documents his experiences in leading a group of eight chronically ill people, from as many different walks of life, to spend a month in the Peruvian Amazon working with shamans and plant medicine in search of a healing from Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, depression and cancer, that had otherwise evaded years of Western medicine treatment.


Polizzi followed his full-length documentary with the release of a video series he called Remedy: Ancient Medicines for Modern Illness. Remedy features 10 episodes with 47 world-renowned doctors and health experts discussing plant-based medicines from indigenous healing traditions, readily and inexpensively available to us—perhaps to the dismay of who we call “Big Pharma.”

In his works, Polizzi suggests that the term “medicine man” may even be somewhat of a misnomer, in that “for thousands of years, women have been the healers in their homes and communities—passing down remedies and traditions through generations,” mother to daughter. He calls this feminine side of healing “The Way of the Wise Woman.”

While I was not ready for the drug-induced altered states that Polizzi had mastered, and nor was I comfortable in making contact with the spirit world that he moves in and out of, I quickly immersed myself in his “medicinal” teachings, and absorbed like a sponge the information he offered on herbal, plant-based compounds. I specifically detailed the herbs that I found personally valuable in my healing journey in the June 2019 issue of this magazine. 

Pa Teuruaa—The Medicine Man of Rarotonga

In August of this year I traveled to the remote South Pacific island of Rarotonga, where I had my own, firsthand, face-to-face experience with a real medicine man. The tiny volcanic island of Rarotonga stands over 14,750 feet above the ocean floor, is only 20 miles in circumference, and has a total area of 26 square miles. Living on the edge of a primitive island jungle next to his “infirmary,” medicine man Pa Teuruaa’s healing and spiritual abilities have become so renowned that the world comes to him and Rarotonga for herbal and spiritual healing wisdom. Other pilgrims before me have included NASA astronauts and spiritual emissaries from the Dalai Lama.

If you don’t know where Teuruaa’s home in Rarotonga is, don’t feel bad—neither did I. Rarotonga is located some 700 miles west of Tahiti in the South Pacific. Even though it might sound like it, it is not that impossible to get to. In fact, there is a very convenient direct commercial flight on Air New Zealand (ANZ), which leaves weekly out of LAX.

Nine hours or so after my takeoff, the amazing ANZ pilot landed a “very long” Boeing 777 on a “very short” World War II-era airstrip. Being south of the equator, I exchanged my summer for winter and I learned it was true, that the water in the toilet circled the drain in the opposite direction there.

My First Meeting with Teuruaa

Teuruaa’s humbleness was apparent from our first meeting. Putting his hands together as if praying, he greeted me and bowed. His sun-bleached dreadlocks and muscular bare chest betrayed his nearly 80 years of age. He was clad in his native traditional “dress” of loin cloth and palm fronds tied around his arms and knees.

Teuruaa descends from multiple generations of medicine men and women of Rarotonga. He notes that, to Nick Polizzi’s point about, “The Way of the Wise Women,” his grandmother taught him the most about jungle medicinal healing.

Christianity came to Rarotonga in the 1830s and since then has, over the last century or so, morphed with the native revere for their traditional Polynesian gods. Teuruaa initially offered his prayer over our first meeting with what appeared to me to be some unusually deep-voiced utterances to his native gods, then to my surprise, ending each what I thought to be pagan prayer, “in the name of Jesus.” I later found much of the prayers on the island are a unique blend of Christianity and Polynesian polytheism.

Teuruaa’s Intuitiveness

After a few minutes of conversation, Teuruaa, who speaks eight languages fluently, seemed to intuitively know why I had sought him out and began showing me the various trees and plants he had growing around his home, which abutted a jungle. He carefully described to me their medicinal value in perfect English. When I mentioned to him that I had the normal swollen prostate issues of a man my age, he wasted no time in preparing a “potion” from some roots he had previously dug, dried and pounded with a stone, some fermented Noni fruit, some coconut water from an immature coconut, and some male and female nuts of a native tree.

He steeped all of the ingredients that he basically rounded up from his yard in a stainless steel bowl, while he told me about the inherent powers of each ingredients. After the appropriate time, he strained the fluid into an empty Beefeater’s Gin bottle he had handy and told me to drink all of it within the next 24 hours.

Teuruaa’s healing and spiritual abilities are revered in the Pacific and beyond. He has been summoned more than once to Hawaii to abate volcanic eruptions there. His medicine men counterparts in Hawaii believe that he is one who can influence Tutu Pele, the goddess of fire, lightning, dance, wind, volcanoes and violence. Her poetic name is Ka wahine `ai honua, or the woman who devours the land, and she is considered both a creator and destroyer. She listens to Pa.

Healing Others

Teuruaa also tells of the time a NASA astronaut came to his infirmary and stayed for several months to be cured of a deterioration of bone density from spending too much time in space. Western medicine had nothing for the astronaut’s “dry bones,” as Teuruaa describes the ailment. But after several months of Teuruaa’s jungle medicine and spiritual intervention, the astronaut returned to America completely healed.

Another treatment for which Teuruaa is known worldwide is his ability to heal a deadly jungle fever, for which Western medicine has no known treatment. He says that it was in prayer that he was told by God how to make a preparation from the deadly nightshade plant, Belladonna, that would cure the fever patients. He has been called to various parts of the South Pacific, Malaysia and Hawaii to administer this treatment, which he says if improperly diagnosed is deadly to the recipient.

Followers of the Dalai Lama

In 2000, a group of Buddhist monks, followers of the Dalai Lama, came to see Teuruaa. They asked him if he knew where the energy point on the island was. He told them there were two on Rarotonga—male and female. The male one is at the Needle (Te Rua Manga) rock, and that’s the point he took them to.

Teuruaa led the monks to the base of the rock, where they buried an urn with the 900-year-old remains of an ancient master, as they had waited for the new millennium to come to do so. According to Teuruaa, “The energy point is precisely around the Needle, and the urn is still there to this day.”

The Dalai Lama, through his monks, blessed the needle and declared it to be one of the “eight energy points in the world.”

Rarotonga Energy Point

According to Teuruaa, the Rarotonga energy point is where the ancient Polynesians were spiritually rejuvenated. The monks then left Teuruaa and the island and headed to Sedona, Arizona, for their next “energy point” pilgrimage.

Teuruaa then led me into the jungle, where lush growth grew over the path we were on. For me it was like drinking from a firehose, keeping up with all the plants he pointed out as he described their medicinal value. Occasionally he would grab a leaf from a plant and say, “Eat this!” Then excitedly, as if it was the first time he had discovered it, he would describe what I was tasting and the benefits one would derive from its ingestion.

I will never forget my day in the jungle with the medicine man of Rarotonga.

As I think of the fires burning in the Brazilian Amazon today as I write this to you, I wonder what we are now losing in terms of medicinal plants that we don’t even yet know of their value to the well-being of mankind.

Follow Ric Coggins journey by visiting out website.

Ric Coggins is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who grew up on a one-acre garden tended by his father, who was a regular contributor to Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening and Farming magazines. Ric continues his father’s “green” traditions on a one-acre organic garden urban homestead in Mesa he calls The Fool on the Hill Farm.


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