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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 10 (January 1, 1940)

Makutu — The Magic That Kills And Cures — A Tale Of The Hidden Arts

page 14

The Magic That Kills And Cures
A Tale Of The Hidden Arts

Kinble Bent (Ringiringl) in 1909.

Kinble Bent (Ringiringl) in 1909.

(All Rights Reserved)

Some of the outlanders who took to the blanket in the ‘Sixties, men who were “on the run,” or hiding out in the bush, because of disagreement with the Law, became as Maori as the Maoris. Most of them were deserters from the Army, and I could hardly blame them, after hearing their stories of the intolerable bullying ways of the Regular officers and N.C.O.'s in “Mrs. Victoria's wars,” as Kipling called them. Once they ran from camp or barracks, they were men of the Maori kainga and the bush for life. Two in particular whom I knew were Maori in all but colour in their old age. White men who ran from the British colours always found a welcome just across the frontier. At any rate they were spared bullet or tomahawk, but they did not take a chief's status, as some of them probably expected. They shared the communal life of the tribe that adopted them, none went hungry or lacked shelter. They were supplied with wives by the chief of the tribe or hapu if some women did not take a fancy to them at first sight. But their position usually was little better than that of a taurekareka (slave) or pononga (servant), or herehere (prisoner).

A Tale of Old Taranaki.

A “White Maori” whom I knew very well over a period of about twelve years, was Kimble Bent, who was of partly North American Indian blood, a fact that accounted to a large degree, I think, for his rebellion against strict Army discipline. He had a very unhappy time in Her Majesty's forces. He had first been in the U.S. Navy, and then when “on the spree” in Liverpool he enlisted in the 57th Regiment, called the “Die-Hards.” He deserted from a Taranaki camp in the second war of the Sixties, and for the rest of his life he lived with the Maoris, nearly all the time in Taranaki. I gathered together his reminiscences of wild life in the bush into a book, “The Adventures of Kimble Bent,” which was published in 1911. The old man lived for six years after I wrote the book, and in that time I heard from him a great deal more about his life as a fugitive from the pakehas. Some of his tales of the true adventure were concerned with his acquired knowledge of the strange mental powers which the people of the bush possess, their esoteric or supernatural wisdom. He came to believe that the Maori tohunga possessed certain branches of knowledge that was unknown to the pakeha, and undoubtedly one of the hidden powers was the ability to exercise mysterious influence over people at a distance, an influence so great as to cause death. Willing to death in fact. I do not think the present generation of Maori is capable of absorbing the secret education which the last of the tohungas could have passed on.

Undoubtedly the last generation could exercise powers of life and death by some process of mental wireless. During his more than forty years of life with the people of the bush and the frontier, Kimble Bent had encountered many proofs of this; and one episode in the Taranaki country I shall narrate, as an example of the practice of makutu, in which he firmly believed himself. It occurred at Taiporohenui, near the present town of Hawera, in 1879, when many Maori communities, especially those people who had been through the war, lived almost entirely in their old native ways.

* * *

A Case of “Mate Maori.”

A chief of the Ngati-Ruanui, the tribe of bushmen and warriors of South Taranaki was Kimble Bent's rangatira, his master and owner. The old pakeha refugee usually spoke of him as “my rangatira.” His name was Matangi-oRupe. He had given the white man his daughter to wife; she was lately dead. The youngest child of the Rupe family was a boy named Whai-Pakanga. He fell mysteriously ill; some unknown malady which deyeloped into a high fever was visibly weakening him. He seemed very near to death; but the parents had no thought of sending for a pakeha doctor, though there was one in Hawera township. This was “Mate Maori,” which no doctor could cure. It was a case for the tohunga.

Rupe, in this emergency, called in a tohunga. There was one who lived near the mouth of the Kapuni River. He was not the only medicine man, but there was none with Hupini's occult powers, which were more potent than any bush medicine concocted from the leaves and roots of the native plants. Hupini was a diviner, a sorcerer if you like, a mesmerist, an expert in the casting of spells and curses that could kill even at a great distance. If there page 15 was black murder here, the mysterious hand of an enemy, Hupini would deal with it in his own way.

The Wise Man's Diagnosis.

The tohunga was a tall lean old man, sharper of features than most Maoris, whose deep-set glittering eyes looked out through a mask of blue black tattoo. He presently came at his kinsman's call, and closely inspected his case.

After a long, intent, silent scrutiny, Hupini left the small wharau, a thatched hut, in which the sick boy was lying, apart from the dwelling of the family. Rupe anxiously awaited the wise man's verdict.

Hupini gave it in two words:

“Kua makuturia” (“He is bewitched”).

Who could have exercised the deadly art on the boy? Rupe could not think of any one who had cause to hate him or his family, at any rate to the point of murder.

The tohunga left for a neighbouring village of his kinsfolk, telling Rupe he would return on the following morning, and would then discover who had wrought this black magic on the boy. The family must be ready by dawn, and must have a kauhoa, or litter, to carry the turoro—the invalid—to the river below the kainga.

The Anti-Makutu Rite.

The sun had not yet risen when a little procession moved from Rupe's manuka-fenced courtyard and passed down the hill to the small stream that flowed around the outskirts of the kainga. The turoro was carried upon a bush stretcher by Rupe and his white man Kimble Bent. The tohunga walked in front; his lips moved in a muttered incantation. Behind the turoro's litter walked Rupe's mother and her children. At such a scene as this only the immediate relatives of the sick one could be present. Bent was regarded as one of the family.

At the bank of the little brook, slipping down through the fern and shrubs, Hupini bade the bearers set the sufferer down. Then, watched in painful intense silence by the little group, Hupini plucked from the centre of a clump of toctoe, or swamp-grass, three long shoots (rito).

With these toetoe shoots in his left hand, Hupini held them up in view of the watchers. Then he took one of them in his right hand, and raising it in the air, he said: “Tenei mo te iwi”–(“This is for the tribe”), and stuck it upright in the ground, close by the margin of the stream. Taking the second rito, he cried, “Tenei mo te turoro” —(“This is for the sick one”), and set it in the soft ground. Holding up the third toetoe stalk the priest, addressing Rupe, said, “This is for the evil man who has wrought evil on your child.” This also he set in the ground. Then he said to Rupe: “The man who has bewitched your son is a close relative of yours. What shall I do with him?”

The father replied: “Tukua kia mate!”–(“Let him die!”)

The three toctoe stalks, spoken of as toko or pou (staff, pillar), stood in a row by the stream-edge. A curious thing now happened. Just as the father had replied, “Let him die!” Kimble Bent's dog, which had followed the party down from the village, ran forward and pulled the third toko—the enemy tohunga's toko—out of the ground, and let it drop a few feet away. The priest did not interfere. He watched the dog, and said to Bent, “He atua to kuri! He atua ki a kpe! Kia pai te atawhai i te tangata!” (Your dog is a god! You, too, have a god! Be kind and harm not men!”) He probably thought that the white man had some knowledge of makutu, and therefore warned him to be careful.

Now the priest began his incantations. In quick rhythmic tones he uttered these words (translated):

“This is the staff for the Night
The great Night, the long Night,
The Night of deep darkness,
The Night sought for,
The Night become visible.”

A Taranaki family: Whare-aitu and his wife and children, of Taiporohenui.

A Taranaki family: Whare-aitu and his wife and children, of Taiporohenui.

This opening karakia was in effect an appeal to the gods to reveal the cause of the makutu. The Po, or Night, personified the powers of evil. (A Maori “Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord.”)

Then the priest placed his hands on the two tokos which remained upright and recited a short prayer, which I translate from Bent's recital. The purport of this karakia was; “Release the evil spirit from this sufferer, O Spirits of the Earth. Release this evil spirit, O Spirits of the Sky! Let the evil fly from him, let it be cast from him, from the body of this sacred one, of this chief!”

This invocation ended, the priest picked up the tokos representing the invalid and the tribe from the ground, and going to a small tree which stood on the stream side he carefully laid them in a fork of the branches. They were now tapu, and must not be allowed to lie about where anyone might unwittingly touch them. The toko pulled out of the ground by the pakeha-Maori's dog was allowed to lie where it was.

The Death-dealing Curse.

Now the tohunga recited in quick, sharp tones his magic death-dealing incantation, the “Karakia whakemate.” It invoked the Powers of Darkeness, “The day of lowering sky, the day of retribution.”

page 16

Its burden was, “Let this evil man, the worker of witchcraft, be destroyed, be utterly destroyed. Let him go unto the Night, the Great Night, the Long Night, the Night of Black Darkness!” The wizard ended his curse, “Thou art done forever with this world!” on a long breath with a quick forward jerk of his hand, and his glassily-set eyes projected until they seemed to start out of his head.

* * *

This ended the ritual. The priest resumed his ordinary air and tone and said to Rupe: “Carry the boy back to your home. He will recover now. Before many days you will hear more news.”

The Rupe household returned to their kainga. The boy began to recover fast, and in a few days was well. Faith had worked wonders. As for the enemy who had—according to Hupini—wrought the evil deed, the curse fell quickly. Hupini had told Rupe his name; it was that of a relative of his who lived at Parihaka, and who had some reputation as a tohunga and a caster of spells. In a week news came from Parihaka that this man had died suddenly; cause unknown. In the minds of Rupe and his household—and also in that of the to hunga—there was no doubt whatever as to the cause of death. That was the old pakeha-Maori's story. For his own part, he had no doubt whatever as to the guilt of the Parihaka dealer in magic and spells. And he was firmly convinced also that it was the superior spiritual power, the mana tapu of Hupini, that had prevailed over the inferior knowledge and skill of the secret enemy. Fatal projection of thought, the victory of mind over matter and distance, or whatever the pakeha wise men may call it, it was undoubtedly a power that certain tohunga Maori once possessed, and that not very long ago.