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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times

General remarks

page 64

General remarks.

In chronic diseases the patient was often taken away by the tohunga to some other village or isolated place away back in the forest, so as to get away from the influence of the place where he had been ill so long. This was also done where the cause of the disease-that is-the sacred place violated-was close at hand. A change of air was recognised as being useful. In other cases it was done that the tohunga might have free scope in his work, and escape from any antagonistic influence that might be wielded against him.

The Maori has been accused of being unkind to those afflicted with disease, and an excuse sought in their natural condemnation of the transgressing of the law of tapu. To a very great extent this seems to have been true, but the atrocities perpetrated in Polynesia, such as, despatching an incurable case which had lingered all too long, does not apply to the Maoris. In fact innumerable cases can be quoted of devotion to the sick, where the attendants have been ever ready to obey any wish of the patient. Dangerous journeys have been made, and acts of self-denial and sacrifice made to provide the patient with some care dainty for which he expressed a wish. The isolation of the patient in a rude shelter away from the crowded meeting-house, was in accordance with the custom of preventing the death-tapu falling upon the house, in the event of a fatal result. From the patient's point of view it was better to be away from the crowded atmosphere, and from the health point of view the principle was sound. The weak point was, that owing to the shelter being only of a temporary nature, more care was not taken to make it more comfortable. The fault is to be found more in the difference of civilised, and of primitive man's ideas of comfort than in any wilful neglect. In a similar way, where neglect, of attention and care have been charged in many cases, the cause seems to be, perhaps, the recognition by the relatives or attendants that the case was hopeless, and so page 65bowing to the inevitable with the fatalistic philosophy of the Maori. The patient himself was quick to recognise that his days were numbered if the ministrations of the tohunga brought him no relief. He would calmly compose a death song in many instances, or express a desire to taste of the waters of a particular stream, or eat of a particular food ere passing from the world of life. This last drink was termed by the Maoris the "the waters of tane-pi". whilst the food was looked upon by all the tribes as an "o" to give the departing one strength on the last journey. It was the custom, when a chief was Known to be dying, for the tribe to assemble to hear his last words of counsel and advice.

Apart from the last deliberate request for food as an "o", the desire for food by a patient was looked upon as a favourable sign. He was beginning to manifest an interest in mundane affairs and the relations in their joy were ready to heap upon him all that his stomach craved. There was no thought of dieting.

Deep in the heart of every Maori is implanted a passionate love for his own home. Every hill and valley bears a name associated with the exploits and prowess of his ancestors. The tribal songs and history enrich his birth-place and tribal home with the glamour of affection and romance. The "wahi tapu" and the sacred bones of his dead lie there. When sickness, therefore, reaches him in a strange land, or a strange village, he yearns for his native home. If he knows that he is to die he commands that he be conveyed home. What are pain and agony compared with the satisfaction of dying at home and having his bones laid to rest within the tribal bounds! In cases where people have died away from home, their bones have been exhumed years afterwards and conveyed to rest in the tribal burial caves. When I was a child, my uncle Te Rangi Hiroa felt the pangs of death upon him as he lay at a village fifty miles away from his home. He ordered the peo-page 66ple to convey him home post haste for his end was near. The family left at full speed in the early morning but when only half of the journey was completed his spirit fled. I was promptly named Te Mate Kori (the death on the journey) in commemoration of this incident, which was changed again on reaching manhood to "Abound."