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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

Black Magic

Black Magic

We have now to deal with the whare maire the "basket" of evil, kete tautea. On the east coast of the North Island, or at least in that area of it occupied by the Takitimu tribes, the term page 137whare maire is employed to denote the arts of black magic; in the Bay of Plenty and some other districts the name of whare maire is used in a very different sense, inasmuch as it includes the knowledge of ritual, of tribal history, etc. The kete tuatea is one of the three "baskets" or budgets of knowledge obtained by Tane from the Supreme Being in the uppermost of the twelve heavens. It represents the knowledge of all evil things, but most prominent of these is the art of makutu. The Maori freely condemned the practice of black magic as an evil, but never made any attempt to abolish it, possibly he recognised its use as a disciplinary force. In like manner he condemned the use of fire-arms when Europeans arrived, though he found it necessary to obtain and use them.

In some places the arts of makutu do not appear to have been taught at the place, or in the house, where superior and tapu lore was imparted to scholars. In such cases a separate hut was used for the purpose, in some cases instruction was given out of doors; we know of cases wherein lessons in magic were given at or near the village latrine. In the story of Mahu and Taewha we see that the latter, a famous tohunga, had two houses in which scholars were taught, one was reserved for the teaching of tapu and superior matter, the other was utilised for the teaching of black magic only. The former was the famed whare wananga named Rangi-te-auria, the latter was the whare maire called Paewhenua. In other parts of the North Island we do not hear of this division of teachings into different curricula; at the same time it must be said that we have no precise information as to modes of teaching in those other districts.

There is a brief recital descriptive of the whare maire as it existed among the Ngati-Kahungunu folk. In this account we are told that the whare maire was a whare makutu, a house for the preservation and teaching of the art of black magic, but the term whare, house, is often used in such a sense as is implied in the expression "house of mourning", and one may say in this case that the term whare maire denotes the curriculum of this pseudo-science. Scholars undergoing this course of training were instructed in the dread powers that enabled them to destroy life, fertility, etc., in man, food products, trees, land, the slaying of man through the medium of an ahonga, such as the manea or hau of the human footprint, of which more anon, also the destructive powers that come under the head of, hoa, powers that enable the warlock to destroy inanimate objects, or to endow them with destructive power, such as the mata rakau. When a house or hut was actually erected for the teaching of these arts but one stone page 138talisman, whatu or mauri, was utilised, it was placed at the base of the central post supporting the ridgepole, and in some cases a piece of the stone called mata waiapu, a form of chart was so employed. When a scholar had passed through this school of magic he was required to test his own powers, to show that he had or had not acquired the necessary knowledge and mana to render his spells effective. This he would do by means of the destructive spells that are known collectively as the Tipi a Houmea. He would be required to blast a tree by such means, also to kill a bird, after which came the culmination act that was looked upon as the severest test of all, the slaying of a person by means of his vril-like powers. The most extraordinary features of the whare maire was that, in at least some cases, the person so slain was not a slave or member of another community, but a near relative of the pupil slayer. Thus we are told that the pupil might be charged to destroy one of his own parents, his brother or sister, or his own child. In most cases a pupil seems to have been instructed to bewitch and so slay the first human being he might chance to see after he left the place of instruction. Thus, in the tale of Mahu and Taewha, we see that Mahu was compelled to take the life of his own sister's child. This slaying of a relative was, we are told, the price paid by the pupil for the gaining of magic powers. Occasionally the teacher of magic would himself take the place of the victim, and command the pupil to direct his fatal spells against his teacher.

The whatu of the whare maire alluded to was probably a stone talisman that was usually buried at the base of one of the posts supporting the ridgepole. In the recital given, however, the stone was apparently placed above ground at the base of the central post, therefore it may not have been the talismanic stone, but a stone at which certain ceremonies were performed, as was the case in the whare wananga (see also Dominion Museum Bulletin 10, 1976 reprint, pp. 147-148 and Dominion Museum Monograph 6, The Maori School of Learning). Apparently the stone referred to above was one possessing certain mana inasmuch as the whakangau rite was performed at it, during which, I believe, the scholar had to pretend to bite the stone. With regard to the bird slaying test it is usually explained that the pupil operated on the first bird seen by him after he left the place of instruction, and so in many cases the bird was on the wing when seen, and it might be of any one of many species. In the recital given only two species were mentioned as serving as victims, the tomtit and bat. Should the scholar succeed in the various tests assigned to him then it was page 139clear that he possessed the requisite mana to exercise the marvellous powers of magic, that the gods appealed to were assisting him, and that he could now assume the status of a wizard, a warlock of parts.

The whare maire of the Tuhoe district appears to have been a system of teaching tribal lore generally to ordinary persons, while the whare takiura denoted the teaching of youths or young men of superior status, the more tapu class. A haphazard mode of teaching, or unorthodox methods, and the teaching of a single scholar by a relative would all come under the term of whare porukuruku among the Takitimu tribes. These tribes make it clear that, among them, the teaching of matters pertaining to the world of life and being ao marama was ever kept apart from the "basket of evil", the arts of black magic—"E kore te kauwae runga o te whare wananga e uru ki roto o te whare maire". The same expert might teach, say, historical traditions, charms connected with industries etc. and makutu, but certain beliefs had to be respected, and so there were certain reservations, etc., connected with the teaching of magic. The power of dealing death cannot be lightly transmitted or dealt with in any way, but, at the same time, it is fairly evident that there were two grades of wizards in former times, one of which was composed of more responsible men than the other. The former class of practitioners appear to have ever kept in view the welfare of the tribe, and to have declined to kill persons simply because they were asked to do so. The low class warlocks seem to have been less scrupulous, and were ready to turn their karakia batteries on any person—for a consideration. The emoluments reaped by such gentry usually consisted of some form of food supplies, or possibly a garment, or implement.

The Maori believed that anything that possessed a mauri, or life principle could be destroyed by makutu, the arts of black magic. A brief note contributed by Hori Ropiha of Waipawa runs as follows: "Now man possesses a mauri, as also do whales, fish, eels, whitebait, greyling and birds. Hence these things may be destroyed by means of magic, and so pass away; however big or numerous such things may be, if bewitched they perish utterly".

There is one point in the exercise of wizardry that has never been clear to the writer. Many of us know that Maori belief in makutu is a serious matter, that if a native believes that he has been bewitched then there is little hope of his surviving, he will, page 140as it were, kill himself, will himself to death. We know that a person might believe that he was the victim of such spells when no such attempt has been made by any person to so injure him, and his belief would be quite as fatal to him as the real thing. But where the proposed victim knows not that he has been bewitched and suspects nothing, the dread spells could have no effect, from our point of view, albeit the Maori thought differently. We know not how far the Maori wizard went to ensure that the proposed victim knew that a warlock was endeavouring to meddle with him, raweke, as the Maori puts it. When we come to deal with the hoa class of spells we shall see that the Maori firmly believed that an utterly unsuspecting person could be slain from a distance merely by the utterance of a magic spell, so long as the utterer thereof was a person possessing the necessary mana.

The name of kete tuatea, employed to denote the knowledge of evil, in which makutu was to the Maori the principal force, is sometimes replaced by the term kete uruuru tawhito, or that of kete uruuru tau. Of the latter expression an old native remarked: "Ko te kete uruuru tau, he makutu nga taonga o tenei kete." (As to the uruuru tau basket the contents of this basket was the art of black magic).

The Maori had not the intense belief in, and fear of, the evil eye that many uncultured folk had, and this fact is paralleled by his lack of amulets. He is said to have held the belief that persons having prominent eyes kanohi whetete were usually given to the arts of wizardry, or possessed such powers.

In a general statement above the tests to which learners of magic were subjected have been referred to, and this is a matter that calls for further remarks. It was considered absolutely essential that the learner of the arts of black magic should exercise those powers, should give an exhibition of his command over them ere he went forth as a tohunga ruanuku. Those acts of disclosing his powers were known as the wahangaw or whakangawhatanga that is the exposition of his newly acquired powers. Should the scholar fail to make good his claim to be a tohunga, then the result was not only a failure to render spells and acts effective, but also, as the Maori puts it, those spells recoil and grievously afflict the learner, possibly to the point of death.

We have been repeatedly told by old natives that instructors in makutu who were old and felt their powers failing would sometimes take advantage of these trials of skill (in order, doubtless, to escape a decrepit old age) to leave this world. Thus page 141a scholar might slay his teacher as a token of his own efficiency, and such a death would be as good as a diploma or certificate of merit to the newly ordained wizard. Rakuraku of Te Waimana explained that a small stone was employed in the stone breaking test, this the scholar held in his hand as he repeated a karakia hoa over it, after which he dashed the stone on the ground and it would be seen that it was broken. Was it not broken then test and scholar had failed. Then possibly a dog would be willed to death, that is slain by a magic spell, in which case the gods or demons of magic were supposed to be the vivifying power behind the spells. This same authority stated that the pupil might be expected to slay by similar means his own father or his own wife, and near relative, so that, in some cases apparently, a great price was demanded for the impairing of the powers of black magic. The object of these sacrifices was probably to show the ruthless determination of the warlock. Such was the real price paid by the pupil; no gifts to teachers of black magic sufficed, human life, the lives nearest to the sacrificers, must be given to the dread gods who empower all karakia makutu.

The older Tuhoe folk told me that if a learner of black magic simply made gifts to his teacher instead of offering the human sacrifice, then his own spells would never be effective. Tutakangahau explained that a person was slain, hai pupuri i nga korero, to enable the pupil to retain the teachings of the experts. This authority also maintained that to utilise a slave as a human sacrifice would be quite useless, such an act would nullify the powers of all charms etc., acquired by the pupil. Evidently in at least some districts public opinion, or expert opinion, demanded the death of a near relative, and the expert teacher had the privilege of naming the person to be sacrificed. The body of a relative so slain was, of course, buried, not consigned to the family oven.

In vol. 35 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 83 et. seq., appears the best account of the ordeals of the whare maire that has been placed on record. Those ordeals, apart from the exercise of the powers of magic described above, were extremely disgusting, inasmuch as they included the swallowing of human excreta by the pupil, all of which is described in the story of Mahu and Taewha. Lest the reader imagine that such repulsive practices were confined to the Maori, or to folk in a low state of culture, it may be pointed out that such ordeals have been world-wide usages and were at one time common in Europe. Now this is exactly the explanation of the usage that I always received from page 142old natives in bygone years, they always said that it was a test; if the would-be wizard succeeded in overcoming the intense feeling of repulsion sufficiently to enable him to pass the test, then he was manawa-nui or stout-hearted enough to go through anything, even to the slaying of a friend by means of magic. We have, in another Maori usage, a similar but less trying ordeal. This was when, as a way of asking armed assistance in war, a person would place before another some very badly cooked or otherwise objectionable food. The man who was thus silently asked to take the war-path would at once understand this tiwha, as it was termed, and, if he agreed to take part in the raid, then he would set to and consume the unpalatable food before him. By doing so he expressed his intention of braving all dangers and unpleasant experiences, and such modes of expression were of common occurrences among the Maori folk, just as many charms, spells, etc., were partially acted, such acts were of a symbolic nature.

We have a good illustration of procedure in the story of Mahu. Taewha was a tohunga ruanuku of wide renown and by no means a low class shamanistic juggler, hence he warned Mahu of the responsibilities and dangers pertaining to the practice of black magic. If properly controlled and cautiously used by a person of discrimination the powers of makutu may be a useful restraining force and efficient means of punishing those guilty of serious misdemeanours. In Mahu's case the power was craved as a means of punishing thieves. Mahu is, in the narrative, specially warned to be careful when asked to exercise his powers in slaying man, he must employ those powers only in a just cause, should he take to man-killing without good cause then his own life would be taken by the people. Also he must be inflexible in his determination, otherwise he could be found lacking in the tests and ordeals to follow, in which case the acquirement of the formulae would be of no avail. In one ordeal Mahu came near to failure, and that was when he was commanded to swallow a living lizard, but when the efficiency tests came he seems to have destroyed his niece, daughter of his teacher, Taewha, and a whole community of related folk, with the utmost calmness. He was commanded by Taewha to exercise his powers as soon as he left the hut, to blast a tree, to slay the first bird and the first person seen by him, no matter whom the person might be; also he was to shatter a stone. All these things were to be effected simply by repeating charms, those charms being backed up by mana, let us say psychic force, and the dread powers of atua maori. In one version Mahu is told page 143to shatter a stone by uttering his spell and then knocking it against another stone, but he had been previously told to swallow a piece of stone, and this was probably the old ceremonial "hardening" performance to produce a condition of stern, unflinching resolve. Mahu was told that, should he succeed in shattering the stone, then the thunder of heaven would resound, and that thunder was so heard.

The slaying of the daugher of Taewha by Mahu is an illustration of the hoa already referred to, the vril-like power to destroy from afar by means of a recited charm plus mana. When Mahu launched his charm at the girl she was some distance away from him, in a swamp near the village. Many things tend to show that the Maori believed such acts to be possible.

The account of the destruction by magic arts of the armed force that came to slay Taewha and Mahu in order to avenge the death of Taewha's daughter, is given with much detail, at p. 103, vol. 35, Journal of the Polynesian Society. In this case the probable method employed was to bury; under the surface of the track by which the force would approach the village, certain objects that served as connecting links, mediums between the active spells of the warlock and the persons to be destroyed. Or there may have been no such material links employed, simply a small hole made in the pathway, over or into which the magic spell would be uttered, after which the hole would be carefully filled in lest it be noticed by travellers it was intended to slay. When a wayfarer traversed a patch so bedevilled he perished as he attempted to pass over the charmed spot. As to Mahu's great bag at Maungawharau we are told that the persons slain are still to be seen in the form of stones; spells having such an effect are termed karakia matapou. In describing such an act as Mahu's bewitching the path a Maori would say "Ka whakauohoia ko mea atua ki taua huanui". Such a god was located at that path.