National | Books

93-year-old Kuia tells inspiring story from orphan upbringing

93-year-old kuia Hariata Sally Waetford has released a book telling the story of her childhood, her devotion to family life, and the discovery of her passion for natural healing remedies.

Born and raised in Wairoa, Waetford says she has been working on this book for over 30 years, and it was originally supposed to be a gift for her family, but felt compelled to share her story with the world in the hopes that people find strength and inspiration from it.


The book is titled Pani, meaning orphan as this is the circumstances that Waetford was raised in at a young age after both her parents died of cancer.

“Losing both our parents in a short period of time was devastating and on top of that, for the first time in our lives, my siblings and I had to face being parted as a family,” she says.

Despite their circumstances, Waetford says she and her siblings comforted each other the only way they knew how, and they collectively acknowledge that survival was the only way around their situation.

“I went through some traumatic years, and I shudder as I recall those pitiful days. I was forced to face my fears head-on despite the hassles and abuse that was hurled towards me.”

Rongoā Māori

Waetford attributes her knowledge of traditional healing remedies to her Gran who took her under her wing as an apprentice at a young age. At her side in the bush, Waetford said she learned to choose the right plants for their medicinal uses, from treating the common cold and upper respiratory ailments, to addressing nearly any other health issue:

“While selecting special leaves and bark from the tree trunks for rongoā, Gran also told me which trees were once used to carve great canoes. There were multiple uses for so many of the natural resources we collected. The red bark we harvested was hung in strips. She used it to make splints to heal and set broken limbs.”

Launch and feedback

The soft launch for the book took place earlier this month in her hometown of Wairoa, and since her story has been available for the public to read, Waetfort has been inundated with calls, emails, and letters from people who have found solace in her book. One wahine said:

“I found Sally’s vulnerability and strength heartbreakingly evidenced by the revelation of her experience of rape, which she selflessly shares in the hope that it might 'help others who have been hurt by and kept silent about similar episodes'."