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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times


page 74


Leprosy was an ancient disease. It was called "ngerengare", "tuwhenua" or "tuhawaiki". It was attributed by the other tribes to have originated with the Ngati-whatua tribe or Kaipara. The Ngati-Whatua in their legends say that leprosy came form the fatherland Hawaiki in its own canoe. It was supposed by the Maoris to be caused in three ways.

(1)Haridity. Certain families were supposed to be prone to the disease. The disease might miss a generation or two and then reappear.
(2)Infection. The places where lepers lived were supposed to be infectious. Lepers were isolated away from the villages in ancient times. They were carefully avoided except by those who conveyed food. The urine was considered especially contagious. To walk over places where lepers had micturated was to court disaster. This is interesting in view of the fact that the bacillus lepra is to be found in the urine of lepers. Near Maungatautari is a spot which has been an ancient leper colony. It passed into the hands of Europeans who employed a Maori to burn the fern. He returned to his village ill. On being questioned he told where he had been working. It was recognised as a leper place. The man developed leprosy. The burning or fern or rubbish over these spots is held to be very dangerous, either when the smoke is about or when the dust or ashes are liable to be inhaled. The cave of Oremu near Taupo was used for isolating lepers. In the north amongst the Rarava tribe there is a district named Herekino where leprosy was so prevalent that people feared to pass through the distriot. A saying was applied to it.

E kore koe e puta [unclear: I] to taru Herekino.
You will not escape from the evil weed of Herekino.

(3)Witchcraft. Like many of the other disease it could be imparted by the process of witchcraft. This was termed "were ngerengere". The priests or tohungas having authority with the gods of leprosy could afflict persons with the disease. It was thus a form of makntu but worse then the sudden death dealing page 75variety, in that the afflicted person became a pariah and an outcast and died slowly. It was a power wielded by the Ngatiwhatua division dwelling near Helensville. One of the last to use the power was the aged chieftainess Te Ngau-toka whose god was Tu-hope-tiki. The power however had certain restriction against abuse. To Ngan-toka's descendants tell me that she could not use it except against someone who had personally injured her. When asked by someone to use is on their behalf against an enemy. Te Ngan-toka refused, saying that the person had done her no harm and that under those conditions Tu-hope-tiki would not obey. The Maoris say that on one occasion she punished a European who had insulted her and that he died of leprosy. Such was the fear of Ngati-Whatua, that Paora Tuhaere used this fear to recover a large sum of money that had been stolen from one of his tribesmen at a large meeting held in Waikato. Although Paora did not have any power to call up Tu-hope-tiki, the guardian or leprosy, he announced publicly that If the money were not returned in 12 hours, he would afflict the thief with leprosy. Headless to say the money found its way back to the rightful owner in a few minutes.

The disease was very widely spread in ancient times, all the tribes knowing it under one or other of its names. In the Aupouri district, there is a place named Pāina, meaning to back in the sun. Hare the lepers used to back in the sun. However Kaipara and Taupo are the districts where it was most prevalent.

There have been few cases of late years. Dr. A.S. Thomsen saw six cases in the early days. He gave the first description of it in 1884 in the Brit. and Foreign Med. and chirurg. Review Thomson described it as lepra gangrenosa. I have seen one case at Whanganui.

Case. Whakahi a Whanganui Maori. His own version of the cause was witchcraft. In company with other Maoris he was betting on the totalisator at a race meeting. A dispute as to the sharing of their winnings led to an old Taupo man with alledged tohunga powers, accusing Whakahi of chaating. page 76Whakahi promptly cursed his accuser. Cursing is always a serious offence amongst Maoris. Some time after whakahi developed leprosy and at once thought of the Taupo tohunga as the cause.

When I saw the patient, he had lost his fingers and toes-lepra mutilans. There were no tuberous outgrowths on the face but the lower eyelids and lower jaw were drawn down. There were scaly patches on the arms and legs. The stumps of the fingers and toss were quite healed but there were ulcers on the soles of the feet. The stumps were unaesthetic. The disease has been dormant for some years now. The ulcers seen to be due to pressure and more of a trophic nature. He was isolated near his village and a small pension was granted to him by the Government to keep him in food.

Though the Maoris attribute heridity as a cause they do not say that a child is born with leprosy but that he is more likely to develope it, coming as he does from a leper family, than a child without a hereditary trait.

The Urewera Maoris according to Best attribute fish as a cause of the disease. In this they share Sir Jonathan Hutchinson's theory.

Te Ngau-toka's treatment of leprosy consisted of a mixture of two plants, kawakawa (piper excelsum) and ngaio (myh-porum latum) and human or dog's excreta. After taking the mixture the patient must not touch a dog or the treatment would fail.

I enclose pictures of Whakahi, the Whanganui leper.