This Saturday marks Te Rā o Tā Māui Pōmare, an annual commemoration of New Zealand’s first Māori doctor, and Māori health innovator Tā (Sir) Māui Pōmare.
Tā Māui’s family wanted him to study law but he felt he could do more for Māori as a doctor. In medicine he could also honour his father’s dying wish to him as an 11 year old boy, to obtain a Pākehā education and pass its benefits on to his people.
Tā Māui trained in medicine in the United States before returning to New Zealand and registering as a doctor in 1901.
He joined Parliament in 1911 and was New Zealand’s eighth Minister of Health from 1923–26. He was set the hard task of working with reduced budgets (from the 1920 – 1921 recession) and a difficult period of public health (following the Great War and the influenza pandemic of 1918).
In the early 1920s New Zealand had the second highest maternal mortality rate in the western world. An investigation that year found that puerperal sepsis was the main cause of maternal death. Under Māui Pōmare’s leadership New Zealand saw great reforms made to midwifery and antenatal care by improving sanitation and public health policies, which saw a dramatic fall in puerperal sepsis.
He was also noted for the reorganisation of New Zealand’s mental health hospitals.
Māui Pōmare was a strong advocate for Māori from an early age. In 1889 as a young teen he and two other Te Aute College students went on a walking tour of Hawke's Bay to promote social reform among Māori.
As a doctor he, and colleagues Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter Buck), Tūtere Wī Repa, and Edward Ellison stood out as role models for other Māori health professionals, demonstrating that they could communicate more effectively with Māori than could their Pākehā counterparts.
It is this legacy that the College’s Māori representative group, Te Akoranga a Māui, appealed to when choosing its name.
Te Rā o Tā Māui Pōmare, or Sir Māui Pōmare Day, is held each year on the last Saturday in June. Māori doctors, public health leaders, and local iwi gather to celebrate his achievements at Owae Marae, near Māui Pōmare’s birthplace.