By Rosemary Rangitauira 05/05/2022

Rukingi Haupapa (Ngāti Whakaue, Te Arawa) credits his stroke in 2005 for changing his life: leading him to change his name, get his mataora (facial moko) and set up a trust to help fellow stroke survivors.

Oranga (health and wellbeing) is Rukingi’s passion. He holds a Master’s degree in Indigenous Studies and completed his thesis entitled ‘Te Waharoa’, which delved into the ‘Life after stroke: Whānau stories from Te Arawa, in 2015.

Pictured here in front of his Tupuna Whare, Tamatekapua at Te Papaiōuru Marae in Rotorua, the Ōhinemutu Village resident says his life changed after his stroke.

“My life before 2005 ended and from there I had to start over by having to relearn new ways of doing things and relearning how my body works.

“My stroke gave me a purpose to do things that I may have always wanted to do. I think my life before my stroke I questioned, including my name. My stroke enabled me to make sense of my identity and who I am,” he says.

2015 was a prominent year for Rukingi and was when he decided to change his name following kōrero (discussions) with his whānau.

“I relied on everybody to help me. I thought I’m going to have to start making decisions for myself. So in 2015, after just completing my Master’s and after a couple of years of thinking about it, I chose to change my name from Lee Rukingi Richards to Rukingi Lee Haupapa.”

Rukingi adopted his grandmother (on his Dad’s side) Te Waharoa Haupapa’s surname to continue his kuia’s name, as there is only one other relative who carries her name.

He’s also recently decided to discontinue his PhD so he can focus on applying the evidence he’s collated for his doctorate to empower stroke survivors via Awhi Mai Stroke Trust, which he chairs.

In 2020, the trust – led by stroke survivors striving to support their peers – held a series of hui across the Bay of Plenty.

Now Rukingi is pleased to report that the trust’s subsidiary, Awhi Mai Solutions, has teamed up with the Lakes DHB to provide virtual services to support in-hospital and outpatient stroke survivors.

“So we’re now one of the services that are available for patients who are living in rural places like Murupara, Te Whāiti, Minginui, and everywhere in between. Now these patients don’t have to come to Rotorua for a chat. It’s a whole new ballgame.”

This proverb demonstrates why he does it:


Ruia taitea, rua taitea. Kia tū ko taikākā, ko ahau anake.

The weak fall away, but I will fight on by myself if need be.

– By Te Arawa chief, Te-Roro-o-te-rangi


The Ngāti Whakaue descendant says he hopes the learnings from members of Awhi Mai Stroke Trust will be helpful to others.

“It’s not easy living with a stroke. But the great thing is that many of us did fight on for our whānau, tamariki and mokopuna, and did find a life of quality and value. We want to help and support whānau so they have better outcomes than what we had,” says Rukingi.

“We’re creating a network for our whānau so they know they’re not alone. We have regular hui across Bay of Plenty so survivors can come together, share their experiences and let our whakapapa (genealogy) do the talking because our culture is so beautiful and it helps us find comfort and connections.”

He says his whānau were at the core of his recovery.

“After I suffered my stroke in 2005, my daughters decided that I would go home just eight days after it happened. I asked one of my daughters, why they made the decision. ‘She said because there wasn’t a lot of medical things that the hospital could do. And more importantly, because you weren’t in a good environment for you.’ I’m grateful to my whānau and my daughter Natalie (Richards), who was my primary caregiver, for taking me home. Being at home and surrounded by my whānau enhanced my recovery.

“In some way, my stroke helped me to forget to be afraid and to do things I wouldn’t do. Like changing my name and my face, and discovering a new way to help enhance the lives of other stroke survivors and their whānau.”

Rukingi says Awhi Mai Solutions’ support includes monthly stroke hui for Māori, inpatient and outpatient referrals, and involvement in Te Pokapu o Te Taiwhenua.

Awhi Mai Solutions was created by Rukingi and Amiria Tomoana of Ngāti Kahungunu.

Rukingi says twenty of its members are involved in stroke-related university research studies.

“We are deliberately ensuring Māori have a voice. During my research journey, I didn’t like what I saw when looking at Māori and stroke research. I couldn’t tell who the interviewees were and where they are from. Whakaaro Māori and Māori words had also been rephrased and re-couched in a non-Maori, academic way. This motivated me to do my Master’s after recovering from my stroke and with help from whānau and my supervisor.

“The voices of Māori patients and their whānau are critical. Māori stroke survivors and whānau will politely listen to clinicians and health professionals but they really want to listen and talk with patients and whānau who have been through the same challenges so they can get ‘lived’ advice.”

Bonus Read

In case you’d like to read more about Rukingi Haupapa, he is currently a kaiwhakarite (cultural support) for the Te Puni Kōkiri ki Waiariki branch and supports local and regional Māori initiatives.

He is also the kaumatua of New Zealand Speech and Language Therapy Association where he supports and advises on kaupapa Māori.

* Photo by Megan Lacey.