LESPA at the Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa has introduced a new Maori spa specialist and therapist to its already extensive range of services.
Elizabeth Davis, more commonly known by her traditional Maori name of Riri, originally hails from the North Island and belongs to the Ngati Wai and Te Rarawa Iwis. Her specialty is Mirimiri, a form of massage indigenous to and practiced by the Maori tribes of New Zealand.
Considered to be the ancient taonga or treasure of healing by massage passed down by Maori ancestors, Riri for the very first time brings those techniques learned from her parents and grandparents personally to guests of LeSpa at Sofitel.
A seventh generation healer and therapist, she is one of only a handful of local people in New Zealand accredited in specific Maori treatments and says she joined the LeSpa team for the chance to share a part of her culture and her people with the rest of world.
Riri said: "While there are therapists in every Maori tribe, they mainly practice within their own Iwi or community.
"A tourist may be able to find spas in Auckland and Rotorua that offer traditionally trained Maori therapists who practice indigenous treatments, but not here it Queenstown. I am essentially the first."
Riri specialises in several Maori treatments, including the Mirimiri and Romiromi, for more than 20 years, later learning different relaxation massage techniques to complement her traditional focus.
"Maori therapies have been passed down through generations of my family, and now I am playing my part in continuing those traditions by training my two children in the ancient arts and ways of Mirimiri."
After many years of serving the Maori community as a natural therapist and healer, practicing on family and friends, Riri chose LeSpa is her first 'professional' therapist role within an internationally recognised spa.
According to ancient folklore, massage such as the Mirimiri is passed down through Maori tohunga (healers), who connect with the land and tribal traditions. Acknowledging history is key.
"Knowledge is handed down by Maori Elders in order to learn the techniques for our most traditional and sacred treatments. While there is no specific degree to complete, whakapapa - the geneology of your tribe- must be learned thoroughly before you can be decreed able to practice the craft. Whakapapa is an essential part of the healing process and ensures you harness a true understanding, knowledge and context of the treatment to ensure its many benefits."
Mirimiri is a therapeutic massage using soft techniques, with pounamu, native leaves, and other tools used at times to bring an added dimension to the healing process. Beginning with a prayer, the treatment rebalances energies and brings on a state of deep relaxation, leaving the client with increased energy and focus.
Romiromi is a more intense experience, combining deep tissue work, pressure points and body alignment to aid in releasing blocked energy in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual spheres. Romiromi is sacred to the Maori and said to be transforming, increasing energy and motivation.
Both the mirimiri and romiromi rely on a connection between the therapist and the client; the more trusting and open the client is, the more they will receive in return.
Though one or the other can be requested, Riri relies on her instinct and bond with the client as to how the treatment is performed, making each and every massage experience a unique experience personalised for the client. Depending on the situation she may chant or sing during the treatment. Both the mirimiri and romiromi begin with a traditional prayer.
"Mirimiri and Romiromi are healing treatments, not just about relaxation.
"The idea is for those receiving treatment to come away with a spiritual and emotional lift, reduction of pain, and realignment of the body," Riri said.
For both treatments at LeSpa, Riri uses kawakawa oil, made from the native kawakawa plant, teas and oils of which are used medicinally for treating a variety of ailments in Maori culture.
Although now enjoying life in Queenstown and at Sofitel's LeSpa, Riri is originally from the the Bay of Islands and Kaitaia - a special region famous in Maori folklore as being the place your spirit passes on.
"Given my birthplace and ancestral calling I long wanted to be a spa therapist - it's in my blood and heritage. I can connect with people through this practice, and it's fulfilling to know that I can make a difference to people's health and provide encouragement to work towards making a difference in their lives.
"What attracted me to LeSpa is that it's natural, beautiful space and has a special feeling and ambiance. I am in the end a healer so those qualities work well to place people in the right frame of mind to receive treatment."