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The Coming of the Maori


page 404

In Polynesia, the general term for sickness ismakiandthe term for death is mate. In New Zealand, the term maki has evidently become archaic, for though Williams's dictionary records maki as meaning an invalid or sick person, I have never heard it used in current speech. The term mate is current for both sickness and death, and the distinction in meaning is conveyed by the context and particularly by the tense used. The present tense with mate means that the person is sick and the past tense means that he is definitely dead. The term aitu is a more classical term applied to sickness and mate aitu is particularly applied to accidents and death by accident. Sickness due to infection by malignant spirits is termed mate atua or mate maori. However, I believe that mate maori is a late term used to distinguish sickness held to be due to Maori causes from the diseases introduced by the pakeha (mate pakeha).

According to academic theory, sickness and disease were due to the machinations of Maikinui, a supernatural "something" existing somewhere in the void. It was Maikinui and his family of Maiki who unsuccessfully opposed the ascent of Tane to the upper realms in search of knowledge. In practice, any departure from normal health was ascribed to attacks by malignant spirits. The malignant spirits may be conveniently divided into two classes: the cacodemons described by Best and the familiar spirits controlled by sorcerers. The cacodemons were derived from abortions and miscarriages and hence were named atua kahukahu (kahukahu, foetal membranes). Some were even derived from menstrual discharges. The spirits were thus associated with the families which had provided their means of origin. The cacodemons usually had some form of animal incarnation, such as some species of fish, bird, or lizard. Familiar spirits were conjured up from the dead or the underworld by sorcerers as the medium for carrying out their evil spells.

The direct cause which precipitated an attack by cacodemons was page 405some infringement against the restrictions of tapu. The ramifications of tapu were so widely spread that it was comparatively easy to attribute the manifestations of illness to some infringement or other. The usual pattern of incidence was that the patient was punished for breaking the tapu of some family by the cacodemon associated with that family. The cacodemon took possession of the erring person and afflicted him with malaise, weakness, pain, toss of appetite, fever, and even delirium (kutu-kutu-ahi). Delirium was regarded as a sure symptom of possession by an evil spirit.

The procedure was to call in a practising tohunga (priest) and, first of all, to find out the error (hara) committed and to locate the particular cacodemon. This was equivalent to diagnosing the disease. The case history was taken out as to the movements of the patient before the attack came on. If he had visited a particular locality where a tapu spot was known to exist, he was questioned as to whether he had taken wood for a fire or had cut flax or performed any other action that would indicate having trespassed upon a restricted place. The patient was usually ignorant of his error until the priest revealed it. Sometimes a patient revealed his error in his delirium by repeatedly mentioning some object associated with a tapu locality or by mentioning the incarnation form of some disease demon. A typhoid patient in the Taupo district kept calling in his delirium, "Take away that crayfish that is biting my big toe." It so happened that the freshwater crayfish was the incarnation form of some disease demon, and no theory about the typhoid bacillus could compete against such an obvious diagnosis. If the case history or delirium failed to indicate the cause, dreams were the next recourse. If past dreams did not reveal anything germane to the case, the priest asked the assembled family to dream and remember their dreams. In the morning, he psychoanalysed the reports and usually found one which provided a diagnosis. If we substitute tapu for sex, I cannot help feeling that the Maori tohunga made prior use of some, at least, of the methods of the modern psychoanalyst. The patient was suffering from a mental depression due to some act of which he was not always aware. The tohunga, by an inquiry into the case history, brought the hidden cause to the surface. The patient was now made aware of the cause of his symptoms, he admitted his fault (hara), and the way was paved for his recovery. The diagnosis was really a part of the treatment.

The initial treatment consisted of exorcising the malignant spirit which had taken possession. The priest addressed the spirit in residence and pointed out that the offence was committed by the patient inadvertently through ignorance. He had been punished sufficiently for his mistake and he begged the spirit to act like a person of good birth (rangatira) by vacating the patient. If the malignant spirit belonged to a particular page 406family, it probably refused to accede to the request of a member of another family. The priest thereupon went to the head of that family, told him the history of the case, apologized for the patient's act, and asked him to come personally to call off his family spirit. The head of the family, or his representative, thereupon went through the same procedure as the priest, but he used more forceful language. He would say, "Kati kua nui tena" ("Stop, that is enough!"). If the cacodemon showed any reluctance, he issued the forceful command, "Taurekareka, puta mai ki waho" ("Slave, come out!"). When the spirit left, the restlessness of the patient subsided and he probably passed into a peaceful sleep.

The next step was the purificatory rite termed whakahoro (to free from tapu). The patient was dipped in a stream while the priest recited chants to remove the defilement due to infringing the tapu which caused the illness. The patient was rendered clean and his recovery thereby promoted.

Another rite, termed whakanoho manawa (whakanoho, to sette; manawa, heart), was conducted sometimes to give confidence and courage to the patient. It was equivalent to giving the patient a heart stimulant or a mental dose of digitalis.

In the ailments caused by sorcery, the part played by the familiar spirits of the sorcerer is not so clear cut as in central Polynesia. In Tahiti, the familiar spirits of sorcerers were lodged in wooden images made for the purpose. These spirits were definitely sent out by the sorcerer to enter the body of his victim and the symptoms were caused by the spirits tearing at his vitals. In New Zealand, wooden images were not used by sorcerers and the part played by the sorcerer's familiar spirit is not so clearly defined. However, the only treatment available to the Maori was to enlist the services of a powerful priest, who could turn the attack from the patient back to the sorcerer by means of more potent spells. Sorcery was a secret weapon and, once launched, had to kill. If the attending priest was successful in the contest, the sorcerer died and the patient recovered. If the treatment failed, the patient died.

Minor ailments which were obvious to the sight were regarded in a more rational manner. Warts (tonatona) were pared down and medicinal leaves applied after heating. Boils (whewhe) were incised and the core (whatu) expressed (whete) by squeezing between the thumbs. Goitre (tenga) occurred in some districts but was taken usually as a matter of course. Some such swellings were supposed to be eased by rubbing with the morning urine applied with the left hand. Toothache (tunga) was held to be due to a grub (tunga), hence the name. For children, a chant was used which gave some comfort at the time.

Heat was used to relieve the after-pains of childbirth and painful and difficult menstruation. An oven of hot stones was covered with the leaves page 407of certain plants, a mat placed over the leaves, and the patient sat on the mat thus receiving a medicinal steam bath.

Blood letting was practised for the alleviation of pain such as headaches or pains in the side. A toetoe leaf was used to make parallel incisions in the skin over the site of the pain.

In a case of drowning, the patient was held by the heels over the smoke of a fire, a procedure which not only allowed the water to run out, but caused sneezing which revived the patient.

Herbal purgatives were used for constipation, the best known being an infusion of the root of the flax plant. The taste is bitter but the action effective. For diarrhoea, the common remedy was to chew the young unopened leaf ends of the koromiko (Veronica sp.) or the mature seeds of the manuka.

The astringent sap of some plants, particularly the rata vine, was used for flesh wounds.

Beyond the few plants used for minor ailments, the possibilities of herbal remedies were not explored by the Maori because of the accepted theory of the causation of disease. After European contact, however, they began to use medicines more freely and to try out the native plants. The introduction of tubs led to the use of baths with various hot infusions of leaves such as the kawakawa (Piper terminalis) and others. The pseudo priests began to find curative properties in different plants which they kept secret so as to acquire more followers. They combined herbal remedies with a certain amount of native ritual and entered the same category as European quacks to such an extent that a Tohunga Suppression Act was passed by Parliament to prevent them from imposing on the credulity and superstitions of the people. In Hawaii, the use of herbal remedies went back to before European discovery; experts were termed kahuna la'au, kahuna being the dialectal form of tohunga and la'au, of rakau, meaning plants. In Maori, wai rakau means a liquid medicine derived from a herb or plant. The term rongoa was applied to European medicines.

Fractures were treated with splints, suitable material being the butt ends of flax leaves or the thick bark of the rata. An incantation termed a hono (to join) was also recited to promote the joining of the fractured ends. There were also chants used in cases of choking (raoa) from food sticking in the throat. The chant ended with the words "Takoto i waho" ("Lie outside!"), the reciter smacked the patient on the back, and the foreign body lay outside.

For wounds in batte, cauterization by means of the live end of a fire stick, was used. For spear thrusts and, later, bullet wounds, a fire stick of manuka, about as thick as the finger, was probed into the perforation. The treatment was known as tahutahu (to burn).

page 408

Leprosy—termed ngerengere, tuwhenua, and tuhawaiki—was known in pre-European days. The last name refers to the myth that it came from Hawaiki in its own canoe. The people regarded it as contagious, and, in the Taupo district, lepers were segregated in a cave named Oremu. The relatives took food to an appointed place. This disease was held to be caused by sorcery or action equivalent to the desecration of tapu. A leper, segregated for some years on an isolated spot on the banks of the Whanganui River, attributed the causation of his disease to the following incident. He and an old man shared in buying totalisator tickets at the Whanganui races and they had some wins. In dividing their winnings, however, the old man accused him of cheating and in his wrath threatened him by saying, "Look out for yourself." Shortly afterwards, the symptoms of the disease appeared on the leper's face and the patient was convinced that it was due to sorcery used by the old man, who was popularly credited with such power.

Another case in the Kaiiwi area in the Whanganui district was temporarily isolated at his farm until arrangements could be made to transport him to the leper station at Quail Island. After examining him, I stood outside the back door talking to his two sisters. The patient, a somewhat bombastic individual, sat by the open doorway and, having recovered his confidence in himself, called out. "Te Rangi Hiroa, this disease is not a pakeha disease, but it is a disease from our ancestors." He expected an argument, but I replied, "Yes, what did you do to our ancestors that made them punish you in this way?" His sisters chimed in, "You may well ask him." The patient, somewhat surprised at the lack of opposition to his theory, continued, "I had a manuscript book belonging to our grandfather. In it were the genealogies and other knowledge concerning our people. I ate and ate of the contents of that book until my belly was full. Then I threw it on the fire and it was consumed. Shortly afterwards a pimple appeared on the side of my nose. I picked it off, but it reappeared again and it spread and spread over my face until it reached the condition you now see." There are times when one must abandon European teaching and identify oneself with the past. I said, "The knowledge of our ancestors was handed on from generation to generation by word of mouth in order that it might live. Your grandfather wrote it down in a book that it might be transmitted more readily to succeeding generations. What did you do? You filled your own belly and then destroyed the book in order that the bellies of others could not be filled. You interfered with the transmission of knowledge, and you burnt the genealogies of your family on a cooking fire."

I had taken a chance shot at the cooking fire, but the culprit bent his head in acquiescence. His sisters gave grunts of approval at my summing up, so I concluded, "You have been punished, but let me tell you that you page 409will have no luck unless you restore that which you have destroyed." I had hoped that the Chaulmoogra oil treatment and the rewriting of what he had learned would help his recovery at Quail Island, but unfortunately, pneumonia intervened and he died.

Evidently there were no endemic or epidemic diseases in New Zealand in pre-European days. Yaws and filariasis with its attendant elephantiasis which are prevalent in Polynesia were not introduced. Typhoid, tuberculosis, measles, and venereal diseases were all introduced after European contact. Without doctors and medicines, the ravages of introduced diseases in the early days were frightful. The Maori tohunga could only practise his own treatment. The disease spirits of the white man would not obey his exhortations to leave, and immersion in water to wash away tapu resulted in adding pneumonia to the already heavy burden of suffering. Thus, even measles developed a high mortality, perhaps from lack of resistance to a new disease, but more surely from complications due to the practice of immersion in cold water. Typhoid fever went unchecked, for the old hill-top sites, with their organized sanitation, had been abandoned and indiscriminate defecation on the lowlands led to the pollution of pools and springs. The gathering of distant tribes to weep for the dead in a typhoid-infected village led to later weeping in other villages. Tuberculosis was contracted, and consumptive patients in crowded sleeping houses without ventilation spread the disease without check. Syphilis took a heavy toll to the second generation, and some individual families died out leaving genealogies which ended with a sad list of repeated abortions. It is little wonder that in 1871 the estimated population had fallen to 37,520 as a result of unnecessary wars and unchecked diseases. Some old Maori, saddened by the hopeless wars of the 'sixties, had said that as the Maori dog and rat had disappeared before the pakeha dog and rat, so the Maori would dies out before the European. This fatal prognosis was accepted by European writers, and some even prophesied the date when the Maori would become extinct.

However, the Maori refused to succumb to false prophecies. Succeeding generations received more and more education in the new culture and the cumulative effect gradually created a different mental attitude towards life. The fear of tapu and sorcery as sources of disease weakened and became a vague superstition. Medical attention became more available. In some of the early land sales, particularly in the South Island, free medical and hospital treatment were stipulated in addition to the purchase money. The Native Department subsidized additional medical men in other districts to give free treatment to those who could not pay. However, the need for a greater awakening among the Maori people to more organized effort in dealing with health and sanitation was very evident.

page 410

In the late 'nineties, the Te Aute College Old Boys' Association was formed with the ambitious purpose of ameliorating the condition of the Maori people in various directions, one of which was physically. The general secretary was Apirana T. Ngata, M.A., LL.B. I attended the first meeting at Taumataomihi in the Ngati Porou territory. One of the topics raised was the better ventilation of Maori meeting houses by cutting a window opening in the blank back wall. The conservatives raised a heated opposition on the grounds that the back walls of meeting houses were made without an opening from time immemorial and that a departure from ancient custom would bring inevitable disaster upon the people. The present generation, who can now view those back windows as a matter of course, can form no idea of the opposition we had to face fifty years ago.

The Old Boys' Associaton approached the Government to provide medical scholarships for suitable Maori students and two were offered. In 1898, Tutere Wirepa and I passed the Medical Preliminary and went to the University of Otago Medical School in the following year. The Te Aute College Old Boys' Association developed into the Young Maori Party, and past students from Te Aute, St. Stephen's, and Three Kings preached health and other propaganda to their now more tolerant elders.

The year 1900 was a memorable one in the history of health organization, for, at long last, the Government Department of Health was established. Maui Pomare, who had graduated with an M.D. in the United States, returned and was appointed Medical Officer of Health to the Maori. Resplendent in the top hat, frock coat, and striped trousers that characterized the profession in those days, he visited Wirepa and me in Dunedin and cheered us on the way to acquire similar symbols of success. Maori Health Councils were established throughout the country and their sanitary and health by-laws, drafted to suit Maori conditions, were enforced, more or less, by Village Committees. Some Maori chiefs were appointed as Health Inspectors in the Council Districts, not so much because of any special knowledge of sanitation and health, but because of their influence in overcoming the prejudices of their people against some of the health by-laws. After graduation, I eventually joined the Health Department. Wirepa went into private practice in a Maori community near East Cape. Dr Pomare and I divided the North Island between us. We worked in with the District Health Officers, the Maori Health Councils, and the Maori Health Inspectors. A further advance was made by the appointment of fully qualified nurses, some of them Maori, to the more populous Maori districts. They made regular inspection tours, nursed patients in their homes, and taught the relatives how to care for the sick. Serious cases, particularly of an epidemic nature, were reported to the Health Department which provided medical consultation, hospital page 411treatment, and sanitary inspectors to deal with infected material and houses. In typhoid epidemics, the opposition of the Maori to sending patients into district hospitals was met by establishing temporary field hospitals in the village with the District Maori Health Nurse in charge. Later, inoculation with anti-typhoid vaccine was carried out in villages where cases occurred and where attacks were recurrent. The sad period of inadequate control over epidemic diseases had come to an end.

The value of Medical Officers with Maori blood to the Department of Health and to the Maori people lay largely in their knowledge of the Maori language, customs, and etiquette, and in the fact that they had a blood tie with the people by virtue of their birth. However, some of the older people were suspicious at first that our intermixture with white blood might influence us in adopting the European procedure of enforcing new ideas without due consideration of native custom and feeling. We readily dispelled such suspicions, because our sympathies were entirely Maori and we merged into Maori society as one of themselves. In visiting Maori villages throughout the country, we conformed at all times to Maori custom and etiquette. We notified the Maori Councils and took the high-ranking Maori Inspectors with us whenever possible. We were welcomed on the village marae with ceremonial weeping, speeches, and pressing of noses. We replied in orthodox style, farewelled their dead, quoted from myth and tradition, and used the appropriate dirges and chants to indicate that we knew something of ancient Maori teaching as well as what we had learned in the pakeha houses of learning. We stayed the night in the meeting house and the discussion of health matters went on into the small hours before interest was overwhelmed by sleep.

In preaching health propaganda, a good many prejudices had to be overcome as diplomatically as possible. Sometimes an objection could be met by reference to ancient customs or institutions. At a large gathering of the Ngati Ruanui tribe in South Taranaki, the old men raised a violent objection to the action of Maori Councils in urging the building of latrines of the type used by Europeans in country districts. The project was criticized as a pakeha innovation absolutely foreign to Maori institutions. It so happened that the story of the first latrine built by Rupe (44, p. 81) in the tenth heaven had been given to Sir George Grey by a learned man of this same Ngati Ruanui tribe. I was, therefore, able to quote in detail from the Maori text of their own authority and, furthermore, to point out that when their ancestor Turi settled on the south bank of the Patea River, in addition to building his house, Matangirei; his village, Rangitawhi; and other items; he also built his latrine which he named Paepaehakehake. Thus, the latrine was an integral part of every fortified village, but our ancestors had abandoned this ancient institution when they left the hilltops for the flat lands after European contact. Therefore, I argued, the page 412Government was merely attempting to restore an ancient health measure which had been forgotten and was advising a form of structure to suit the change in village sites. I was young and nervous but I mustered sufficient courage to turn to an old tattooed man sitting in a corner of the crowded meeting house and say, "O Sir! You have the symbols of authority and learning on your face. Tell me, have I lied?" The old man smiled approvingly and replied, "Speak on, O descendant of Te Rangipuahoaho." Te Rangipuahoaho was a gifted elder of my own tribe and I have always regarded the old man's commendation as the greatest compliment I have ever received.

In individual ailments, if the patient did not derive immediate relief from the medicine prescribed by a doctor, the patient and the family concluded that the failure to respond was due to the sickness being a Maori disease (mate maori) and beyond the white doctor's skill. The medicine was, therefore, abandoned and the services of a quack tohunga were enlisted. Many quacks sprang up throughout the country, and some of them acquired a fairly large following. They were readily accessible, could speak the language, and they pandered to the superstitious fears which were awakened in times of stress. They invariably traced the cause of the sickness to a violation of tapu or to the possession of some old heirloom which carried a tapu infection. The heirloom, if a valuable jade tiki or mere, was taken away for the purpose of removing the tapu, but the disinfected article never reappeared. The Tohunga Suppression Act could be invoked, but it was usually difficult to get sufficient evidence to convict the culprits. However, the Act served as a threat to curtail operations.

I was sometimes asked at public meetings whether or not I believed in mate maori. The answer expected was no, but I invariably answered yes. Before the surprise subsided, I went on to explain that the Maori gods and malignant spirits had mana in ancient times when the people believed in them. However, our elders had discarded them when they accepted Christianity. How then could a discarded god have any mana? To believe in mate maori now meant resurrecting gods and spirits which had long ago been deprived of power. It also meant a denial of the new faith which our elders had substituted for the old. I then asked my interrogators how they could believe one thing and profess another. However, mate maori does crop up at times as a mental condition causing a depression which may interfere with more rational forms of treatment.

A difficulty was experienced in persuading serious cases to enter hospitals for treatment. This objection was largely due to the fact that the relatives were not allowed to accompany the patient and sit round the bed indefinitely as they would at home. The limitation of visiting days page 413and hours also made it difficult to satisfy the relatives, who imagined all sorts of catastrophes occurring behind the closed doors.

Epidemics were always difficult to control. The family sometimes carried the patient off to some other village and so spread the infection. The tangi custom was also a source for the spread of infection. The Health Department had to enforce a by-law with the Councils that there should be no public tangi with visits from other villages if the death was due to infectious disease. We had to stress the difference in responsibility between infectious and non-infectious diseases. It was Hori Pukehika of Whanganui who discovered a useful slogan in the song of Turaukawa. The song, or lament, is probably the longest in the Maori language. It contains some mystical passages, one of which is as follows:

Tokotoko tao, The spear of wood,
   Kotahi te turanga;    one at a thrust;
Tofotoko rangi, The spear from heaven,
   Ka ngaro te kai,    food disappears,
   Ka ngaro te tangata.    man disappears.

When the potato blight first afflicted the Whanganui district and whole cultivations were withered up, the people said, "Ah, this is the tokotoko rangi of Turaukawa which sweeps away food." However, the same spear also swept away human beings and Hori Pukehika was quick to apply the term tokotoko rangi to infectious and epidemic diseases which spread like the potato blight. Thus, we were able to say that non-infectious diseases were like the wooden spear (tokotoko tao) which only affected the patient struck. If he refused to go to the hospital, we could not force him. But an infectious disease was the spear from heaven, or tokotoko rangi, and the Government had to step in to prevent man from being swept away. If the old people are spoken to in language which they understand and appreciate, they are much more likely to co-operate.

The tangi was condemned by the pakeha because of its potential danger in spreading infectious diseases. Many pakeha reformers urged the Department of Health to abolish the tangi by law. We vigorously opposed such drastic action and advised the Department to direct reform towards certain features. The length of time the corpse had been kept above ground had sometimes extended over a week to allow distant relatives or tribes to be present at the burial. The time was curtailed to three days in summer and four days in winter by the Maori Council's by-laws. The Village Committees had to provide sufficient sanitary conveniences for the influx of visitors. No tangi was allowed in a district where typhoid or other serious infectious disease was present. By means of education and by making the Village Committee discharge the responsibilities, the tangi was saved from its well-meaning detractors.

page 414

With progress in health matters well on the way, Dr Pomare and I were deflected to politics as representatives of Maori constituencies in Parliament. I escaped to World War I, but Pomare stayed in to become Minister for Public Health and receive a knighthood for his valiant efforts on behalf of the Maori people. After the war, a Department of Maori Hygiene was included in the Health Service and I was appointed Director of Maori Hygiene. However, the lure of research work in Polynesian anthropology drew me into the services of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum at Honolulu, Hawaii. Dr Ned Ellison, also endowed with Maori blood, took my place in Maori Hygiene until the general advance in Maori understanding of health matters no longer needed a special ambassador of their own blood to help them to understand. Those of us of Maori blood, Council members, Committeemen, Health Inspectors, and Medical Officers, had, by countless hours on the village marae and in tribal meeting houses, helped to dispel superstition, prejudice, and opposition. The District Nurses had done magnificent work in individual homes. The European District Health Officers could now embark both races in the same ship and sail out on a calm sea.

The improvement in health matters is shown by the continued increase in the Maori population. The lowest ebb, in 1871, was estimated at 37,520, but this was undoubtedly too low. A more accurate count in 1896 gave the figures as 42,113. By 1936, the census revealed the astonishing rise to 82,326; and for 1942-43, the estimate was 96,457. Though the death rate is still higher than the European rate, the birth rate is over double that of the European with a corresponding higher rate of natural increase. The rate per 1,000 of population is shown as follows:

European Maori
Birth 20.42 46.89
Death 10.58 17.71
Natural increase 9.84 29.18

The figures include persons of mixed blood who regard themselves as Maori. Though many factors may have contributed to the increase, a very important part was played by the Department of Health under the sympathetic leadership of three successive Directors: Dr Mason, Dr Valentine, and Dr Watt. The theory of extinction has happily proved false, but the opposite problem now rears its head. The new problem is the economic one of how to provide for the ever-increasing Maori population.