The Maori: Yesterday and To-day
The popular belief in malignant occult powers possessed by certain people, a belief prevailing more or less among most of the tribes, is still a force to be reckoned with among the Maori. Undoubtedly the older Maori tohunga possessed hypnotic influence and the power of projection of the will, but the power of imagination was strong, and many supposed victims of the wizard's art were simply killed by their own fears on being told that they were afflicted by makutu. Yet, after making allowance for exaggeration and myth in the innumerable stories told of the death-dealing makutu stroke, there is sufficient of fact left to suggest that the learned Maori of old enjoyed certain faculties which were widely possessed in the early stages of human history, but which through disuse and civilisation have been lost to general knowledge. The wizardly arts were usually practised by the inferior grade of priest; but the greatest tohunga in the land frequently fell under the odium of popular suspicion and aversion as an agent of death through supernatural means. The fear of makutu to a certain extent had its uses; it was allied with the belief in tapu, and it restrained the bully and the thief. The charms and spells of makutu are by no means forgotten; and the prayers believed to be efficacious in counteracting the makutu are still known by some of the elders in numerous tribes. Examples of those survivals are given in this chapter. Such karakia will be handed page 78 down by word of mouth for generations yet. It is not many years since old men and women suspected of having bewitched people were sometimes killed by relatives of the victims. In the Wairoa (Hawke's Bay district) several cases of vengeance of this kind occurred within modern times; the makutu- workers were secretly shot. Makutu has frequently been investigated in the law courts. Occasionally, even to-day, the person accused of practising witchcraft sues his enemies for slander. During last year (1928) a Rotorua man, an old chief with priestly knowledge, took proceedings against other members of the Arawa tribe to recover damages for slander, the libel consisting in an accusation that he had caused the deaths of certain people by means of makutu. He lost his case.
A Maori of the Lower Waikato told me not long since, after reciting a lament for the untimely death of his son, that the lad had been makutu'd by some persons at a religious gathering in the Rangitikei.
Many years ago a leading chief of the Waihou (Thames) tribe, the Ngati-Maru, died as the result of eating twice-cooked canned meat. His relatives, knowing nothing of ptomaine poisoning, came to the conclusion that he had been bewitched by an enemy. The tribe placed the blame on the Ngapuhi tribe, of the Bay of Islands, having in mind the old wars between the two tribes sixty years before, when Ngapuhi warriors captured Totara Pa and other places at the mouth of the Waihou. A deputation of chiefs from the Hauraki shores therefore went to the Bay of Islands to enquire into the incident. I never heard the outcome, but presumably the discussion with Ngapuhi ended satisfactorily.page 79
A Guardian of the Tapu.
Te Ata-o-Tu (“The War-God's Shadow”) was the name of this Ngai-Tahu chief and warrior of the olden time. He was captured at the storming of Kaiapohia pa in 1830, but his bravery won the admiration of the great Rauparaha, who took him to the north. At Kapiti Island he was made the guardian of the sacred places of Ngati-Toa.
[From a painting by G. Lindauer.