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The Aborigines of New Zealand: Two Lectures



The belief in Witchcraft was deeply rooted in the mind of the New Zealander. Like most other nations they have had their “hai makutu,” i. e., sorcerers, wizards, and witches. Throughout the Pacific, sorcery has been one of Satan's most powerful agencies. It has exerted a fearful influence—stultified the intellect, called into existence a thousand fears, destroyed mutual confidence, perpetuated their mental and spiritual bondage, and as much if not more than any other superstition, impeded the progress of the Gospel. When we remember how very extensively a belief in the existence of witches, and in their power over the fates of men has prevailed, even in the civilized nations of Europe, and especially in England, we cannot feel surprised to find it among the New Zealanders, whose mythology brings them into such close and constant communication with infernal spirits, and whose ignorance and superstition make them the easy dupes of designing men.

Witchcraft among the New Zealanders belonged to the Priesthood. A certain class of priests, called Tangata makutu, alone were able to practice the art. The mysteries of their profession, and the power to practice, they handed down from generation to generation. Their children of both sexes were supposed to be initiated. They were employed for pay by parties wishing to avenge some real or supposed insult.

They had several causes for which they considered it lawful to bewitch, as,—“He Kaihau,” i. e., the payment for a certain article going elsewhere. A man receives a garment for which he promises to give some other article, but violates his promise by sending it elsewhere. This is a great offence. Envy induced it. A man was a favourite; had distinguished himself in war; his fame is sung by his friends, and some envious compeer who likes not to be cast into the shade, employs a witch to take him away. Squabbles about land, and jealousy among rival wives, often led to it. A “Tangata Kaiponu,” i. e., a niggardly man, a man close fisted, was greatly disliked, and his niggardliness would often bring the wizards upon him. A degrading address would sometimes be the cause. If I were sitting over the fire, and were to say to one coming to join me, “he ahi tapu,” “this fire is sacred,” I should degrade him; he would feel insulted and resort to the black art for utu. Cursing, too, was another cause, and it was one way of punishing a thief.

The following is a prayer to bewitch thieves.

“Thou shalt be held by the power of Runutunu! by the power of Kopare, and by the power of Whiwhiotarawe, and thou shalt be brought forth and hung upon a tree to dry. Thou hast now a swelling in thy vitals; Oh let my heart think of this!”

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The process reminds one of the witch-broth in Macbeth, though the ingredients differ: They had

“No fillet of a fenny snake,
No eye of newt, nor toe of frog,
No wool of bat, nor tongue of dog,
No adder's fork, nor blind worm's sting,
No lizard's leg, nor owlet's wing,
No scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
No witches' mummy, maw and gulf.”

The New Zealand wizard collected parings of finger nails, broken shells, human hair, sharp jagged edged stones, old rags, &c. These were wrapped together, and with incantations buried. The evil spirit was invoked to send these witches weapons into the hated one, and tear and torture till he expired.

When a person is taken ill or dies, the priest is called to ascertain the cause; the patient sometimes professes to have seen the spirit of some one with whom he was at variance, standing by his bed, whom he concluded to be the witch. When dead, the priest, who is supposed to be gifted with second sight, pretends to make the discovery. He first divines as to the cause, by throwing an arrow. If it stick in the garments of the corpse, which they dress for the occasion, it was a natural death; but if it pierce the forehead, it was the work of a witch or wizard, and sometimes the “Mata-kite” pretends to see the guilty one bending over the corpse. Sometimes he performs his incantations by the water side, and brings up the spirit of the person who has been guilty of the sin, crying out—such an one stands before us. Patu him:—when they all rush to the water and strike. But like Eneas in his path to the shades, they lift their weapons against a foe too ariel to be wounded.

If the person fixed upon be a person of no rank, he was often despatched without much ceremony. I have known the most revolting circumstances in connexion with these superstitions. When I lived on the Waipa, a man near the Mission Station had lost two or three children, and the men gifted with second sight had fixed on his own mother-in-law as the witch who had caused their death. He one day enticed her away ftom the Kainga, on pretence of looking after his pigs; and leading her to the side of an old kumera pit, put a noose over her head, strangled her, and threw her into the pit. There I found the corpse about a week after. The inhuman son-in-law was unmoved when the murder was discovered, exulting that he had ridded himself of a pest, and angry when we brought the corpse to make it a coffin and give it Christian sepulture.

Another man, for the same cause, had destroyed one of his own wives, and we had reason to believe consumed the remains with fire.

If the person was a chief the custom of Pikitoto (counter divination) was resorted to.