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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times

The Present-day Tohunga

page 109

The Present-day Tohunga.

The so-called tohunga of the present day is a fraud and a quack. He has brought the once-honoured name of 'tohunga' into disgrace. In pre-European days, the tohunga was an absolute necessity but now he has outlived his use. He is a menace to the Maori community. The heriditary lines of tohungas with their rich store of knowledge in all departments of life, accumulated through countless generations, have come to an end. The present day tohunga is an absolute charlatan who works upon the credulity and superstitions of the people to acquire notoriety and acculate money. The more backward Maori districts, where doctors are scarce and sickness prevalent, offered a rich field for unscrupulous men to exploit. In many cases, the patients went to reputed tohungas, because there was no other course open to them whereby they might obtain treatment. Many deaths have been caused by exposure and dipping in the stream according to ancient custom. But the tohungas are now afraid of the law. This form of treatment has been abandoned. The various methods of treatment have been evolved and may be classified according to their connection with the ancient system.

(a).Religious. It is only natural that in adopting christianity, many should become faith-healers. It was simply changing the form of exorcisms used in ancient days. The new faith was grafted on to old ideas and superstitions and a compromise made. Thus one old charlatan of the East Coast used an old bible as his pharmacopeia. After repeating his incantations, he tore out a page of the bible, rolled it up and administered it as a pill. In a new cult, established by Te Kooti, fasting and prayers mingled with the ancient system of exorcising disease demons, A much later cult, introduced by Wereta, approaches the European system of faith-healing more closely. The leading district apostle of the cult sat beside the patient, laid his hands upon the afflicted part and prayed for the removal of the disease. Massage was used, hence the name of the sect 'mirimiri' (to rub). Relays of praying masseurs carry on the treatment in obstinate cases.page 110
(b).Water and bathing. The efficasy of purification by bathing and sprinkling finds its modern in bathing in hot Water. By abandoning the cold water with its dangers, the tohunga thinks the law will not be able to punish him. Needless to say, the tohunga to be successful with this form of treatment, has some jargon of has own, some mystic abrocadabra, to impress the patient.

Medicinal. A combination of (b) and medicinal treatment is used in the form of medicated baths. Each tohunga has his own particular stock of shrubs and chemicals. A very popular movement that spread throughout the North Island was the "wairakau" (infusion of plants) treatment. About a dozen different kinds of barks and leaves were boiled together and used as a bath. Though not relying so much upon the superstitions of the people, it had its objections. Practically every tohunga now has his own particular materia medica. In most cases the ordinary patent medicines are used, but the great efficasy of the tohunga's treatment lies in his being able to impress patients with the idea that he possesses mystic powers to cast out the disease demons whilst the patent medicines complete the cure. A Maori tohunga from the Whanganui river, who had been warned to stop his work by the Maori Council, approached Dr. Pomare and myself with the view of being allowed to continue his practice. He explained his system as follows. His wife was the medium of no less than five spirits of biblical origin. She treated cases of witchcraft and such cases as doctors could not cure owing to their being 'mate Maori'. She diagnosed by means of dreams. She kept patients under observation for three days. at her home during which time, smoking, swearing and anything of a sinful nature, was prohibited. Then she called upon the spirits to cast out the disease. She prayed and went through the Catholic service. She sprinkled the patient with water to wash away sin. She exhibited medicines to accelarate the cure. The husband produced a hand-bag and with an air of pride and conscious knowledge that he would certainly obtain our support, he hand-page 111ed out the following:—

Compound licquorice powder.

Barraud's Compound Stomachic Mixture.

Olive oil.

Fluid magnesia.

Perry Davis' Pain Killer.

We questioned him on their uses, but he did not know. It was one of the spirits who directed what particular drug was to be used.

In all these forms of treatment the alledged tohunga claims that he cures witchcraft and mate Maori against which the most skilled European doctor has no power. They even profess to send on to the doctor those cases which are not of so-called Maori origin, but their diagnosis is usually in favour of mate Maori.

The above-mentioned Wereta as a routine question, inquired whether the patient's family possessed any ancient weapons or greenstone ornaments. If any were produced, he invariably diagnosed the cause of the disease as being due to the tapu of chiefs having been communicated to them. He took them away with him to remove the tapu and in every case sold them to curio collectors.

Tohungaism is decreasing owing to the Maori Councils taking steps to suppress it and an Act has been passed by the Parliament of New Zealand to suppress those who work upon the credulity and superstition of the people. There are also increasing facilities for obtaining skilled medical treatment.