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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

Chapter VI. — Makutu: — The Belief in Witchcraft

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Chapter VI.
The Belief in Witchcraft.

The popular belief in malignant occult powers possessed by certain people, a belief prevailing more or less among most of the tribes, is still a force to be reckoned with among the Maori. Undoubtedly the older Maori tohunga possessed hypnotic influence and the power of projection of the will, but the power of imagination was strong, and many supposed victims of the wizard's art were simply killed by their own fears on being told that they were afflicted by makutu. Yet, after making allowance for exaggeration and myth in the innumerable stories told of the death-dealing makutu stroke, there is sufficient of fact left to suggest that the learned Maori of old enjoyed certain faculties which were widely possessed in the early stages of human history, but which through disuse and civilisation have been lost to general knowledge. The wizardly arts were usually practised by the inferior grade of priest; but the greatest tohunga in the land frequently fell under the odium of popular suspicion and aversion as an agent of death through supernatural means. The fear of makutu to a certain extent had its uses; it was allied with the belief in tapu, and it restrained the bully and the thief. The charms and spells of makutu are by no means forgotten; and the prayers believed to be efficacious in counteracting the makutu are still known by some of the elders in numerous tribes. Examples of those survivals are given in this chapter. Such karakia will be handed page 78 down by word of mouth for generations yet. It is not many years since old men and women suspected of having bewitched people were sometimes killed by relatives of the victims. In the Wairoa (Hawke's Bay district) several cases of vengeance of this kind occurred within modern times; the makutu- workers were secretly shot. Makutu has frequently been investigated in the law courts. Occasionally, even to-day, the person accused of practising witchcraft sues his enemies for slander. During last year (1928) a Rotorua man, an old chief with priestly knowledge, took proceedings against other members of the Arawa tribe to recover damages for slander, the libel consisting in an accusation that he had caused the deaths of certain people by means of makutu. He lost his case.

A Maori of the Lower Waikato told me not long since, after reciting a lament for the untimely death of his son, that the lad had been makutu'd by some persons at a religious gathering in the Rangitikei.

Many years ago a leading chief of the Waihou (Thames) tribe, the Ngati-Maru, died as the result of eating twice-cooked canned meat. His relatives, knowing nothing of ptomaine poisoning, came to the conclusion that he had been bewitched by an enemy. The tribe placed the blame on the Ngapuhi tribe, of the Bay of Islands, having in mind the old wars between the two tribes sixty years before, when Ngapuhi warriors captured Totara Pa and other places at the mouth of the Waihou. A deputation of chiefs from the Hauraki shores therefore went to the Bay of Islands to enquire into the incident. I never heard the outcome, but presumably the discussion with Ngapuhi ended satisfactorily.

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A Guardian of the Tapu.Te Ata-o-Tu (“The War-God's Shadow”) was the name of this Ngai-Tahu chief and warrior of the olden time. He was captured at the storming of Kaiapohia pa in 1830, but his bravery won the admiration of the great Rauparaha, who took him to the north. At Kapiti Island he was made the guardian of the sacred places of Ngati-Toa. [From a painting by G. Lindauer.

A Guardian of the Tapu.
Te Ata-o-Tu (“The War-God's Shadow”) was the name of this Ngai-Tahu chief and warrior of the olden time. He was captured at the storming of Kaiapohia pa in 1830, but his bravery won the admiration of the great Rauparaha, who took him to the north. At Kapiti Island he was made the guardian of the sacred places of Ngati-Toa.
[From a painting by G. Lindauer.

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The Pao-Miere: A King Country Cult to Combat Makutu.

On the old frontier—the border-line between the Upper Waikato and the King Country—many years, ago, we used to hear something about an offshoot of Hauhauism, known by the conjecture-provoking name “Pao-miere,” and also of a form of worship bearing the name “Tariao.” At Maori settlements in the King Country in the young Eighties the people gathered for their prayer-chantings morning and night, and there was much earnestness about those half-religious, half-political rituals. Tariao is a morning star. Pao-miere, which means, literally, “Chant to render powerless,” was primarily a faith devised to combat the professors of makutu, or witchcraft, who were then a very real peril among the Maoris. But it presently developed into a kind of patriotic fanatic religion directed by some of its adherents against the pakeha influences in the Rohepotae.

From elders of the Ngati-Maniapoto tribe I have received accounts of this Pao-miere hihi or church, as they call it, with its ritual in full.

It was in the middle Seventies, so far as I can fix it, that Pao-miere was established. Its foundation was the ancient Maori faith; the chants and prayers are of remote origin, with certain recent additions, as the Pai-marire exclamation: “Hau!” (whence came the term “Hauhau” in the Taranaki war days) at the end of each prayer. One of my Rohepotae authorities thus elucidates the articles of the faith (I translate from his account):

“This church Pao-miere was begun in the days of the Hauhaus; these prayers came to be used within the boundaries of Ngati-Maniapoto. The priests, of Ngati-Rereahu and other hapus, who composed page 81 this form of service, were two in number, Rangawhenua and Karepe. They were both powerful tohungas. They had a prayer-house built at Te Tiroa, near Mangapeehi, at the foot of the Rangitoto Ranges, and there the people gathered and they promulgated the new religion. [This house was of cruciform shape, and was nikau-thatched.]

“Now let me explain why this church was set up. In those days there was a great deal of sickness among the people, and these two priests both took thought how they could combat that sickness and save their fellow-Maoris from death. They considered it for a long time, and then they made it known that they had discovered the principal cause of this sickness was witchcraft. Therefore, they established this church, for a four-fold purpose: (1) To expel the various forms of witchcraft (makutu and wheiwheia); (2) To restore sick persons to health; (3) To punish the workers of witchcraft and cause them to die; (4) To ward off witchcraft from sick persons and the tribe.

“When the purpose and practice of this new church became known, there was much alarm amongst the workers of makutu, and their evil ceremonies presently became of no avail, and they were deprived of the mana that enabled them to cause pain and death. When a person became sick, the priests of the church took him in hand. He was taken to the tohunga so that the cause of his illness might be discovered. The turoro (invalid) sat at the foot of the poutokomanawa, the central pillar of the house, and told the tohunga the nature of his sickness. The priest then stood up and recited a karakia appealing for mystic enlightenment as to the cause, ‘kia kite tatou i te pu o te mate,’ whether it were witchcraft, whether it were the work of spirits of the earth or the powers of heaven.

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“This was the karakia:

“ ‘He po tenei, e rua nga po.
Ko te pane tetahi, ko te kopu tetahi,
He ringaringa to runga, he waewae to raro,
I korerotia ai enei korero katoa,
Kia kite tatou i te pu o te mate,
He makutu enei,
He rua-nga-nuku enei,
He rua-nga-rangi enei,

“When this part of the ceremony was ended the priest told the sufferer that he would now engage in spiritual fight with the makutu man. He then recited with force a prayer which was a curse upon the witchcraft worker, a hurling back of the evil upon him:

“ ‘Kowai ka hua e tangi koe ki ahau,
E kai koe i toku ate, e kai koe i taku manawa,
Ripiripi tu te ika i te po, haehae tu te ika i te ao.
Tena tao ana hoki,
Ka tu ki to tia [ki to puke],
Ka tu ki to kona [ki to puku],
Ka tu ki to tamore, [ki to manawa],
Taka hee-he ai te mauri o nga atua [makutu].’

“The priest then put forth a powerful chanted prayer, the purpose of which was to cause the death of the wizard. It is a very ancient karakia. These are the words of it:

“ ‘Pokia i runga, pokia i raro,
He ahi he huhunu he puratoke,
He potipoti rangahue, he kuku,
He kuku moe wai, he toka wharewharenga,
He kohinga he anewa i te rangi,
Turou ko tu mura, ko tu pawa,
Kukuti, kukuti, mawhera, mawhera,
Kapohia i te uru o te tohunga makutu,
Tupou o uru, hokai o waewae,
Horea i roto, horea i waho.
Te rua to, he rua whakaero,
He maheu, he maota, he papa i tahia
Ki te pouriuri, ki te po tangotango.
E ingo ki to matua, e ingo ki to whaea,
Pakiri o niho, whete o karu,
Ka hinga ki te po, ka hinga ki te tahua.
Rukutia e Rangi; rukutia e Papa,
Kei puta te momo ki te ao;
Tatao ana te po i a koe, e whiti ana te ra ki ahau.’ ”

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This karakia is, in Maori belief, an extremely potent death-dealing chant. It contains some very curious expressions, beginning with an invocation of the powers of destruction, to the end that the worker of evil should be covered up, hidden from the world of day, that his only light should be the ghostly gleam of phosphorescence of the glowworm's mystic cave-lamp. It goes on to call vengeance on the head of the tohunga makutu, and ends with a curse consigning him to the Night of Death, to the Po-uriuri, the Po-tangotango:

“Cry to your father, sob for your mother;
Your lips are drawn back from your teeth,
Your eyes wildly stare;
You are cast to the night!
You are hurled away by the powers of Heaven and Earth,
You shall not return to this world of light!
Darkness of death envelops you;
The sun shines forth on me!”

So ends the chant of retribution with all the psychic force of the priest to give it efficacy. He recites then a brief charm to prevent any harm being wrought against his work by the wizard, and the ritual ends with the mystic amen “Hau!”:

Ko pae riakina, ko pae hapainga,
Ki tua na koe, ki tua nei ahau,

* * * *

That summarises the spiritual or esoteric side of the Pao-miere cultus. It was simply one set of makutu countering the other.*

The development of the political and agrarian phase gave pioneer surveyors some trouble in the South Taupo Country in 1882–83. There was a poetic survival of the belief in the existence of the Patupaiarehe or fairy people associated with the Pao-miere chants. This was an appeal to the Patupaiarehe tribe of the Rangitoto Ranges to cause them to remain in their ancient haunts as guardians of Ngati-Maniapoto, and so preserve the Maori land for the Maori people.

* See Appendix for a complete translation and explanation of these karakia.