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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 5 (August 1, 1934)

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 33

The Wisdom of the Maori

The Lampreys and the Sacred Stones.

In a recent number of this Magazine I mentioned the very ancient sacred relies which are preserved at the Motu, Bay of Plenty, as fish-bringing talismans. In Taranaki, too, I have come across survivals of this belief in the efficacy of certain sacred stones which have been handed down for centuries among the tohunga families of the tribes. The old warrior chief TuPatea te Rongo, of South Taranaki, told me of his firm belief in the mouri, which ensured an abundance of lamprey eels, a great delicacy of the Maoris.

Tu-patea said that he possessed one of those mouri, or whatu-kura, perhaps the most sacred of all. “I hold it,” he said, “because I am now the chief keeper among the Pakakohi people, of the ancient knowledge handed down by our ancestors. This mouri-wai [talisman of the waters] is hidden away in a certain spot not far from where we are sitting now.” (I was visiting Tu-patea at his home, Te Takere-nui-o-Aotea, at Taumaha.) “This stone is not large, but it is heavy; it is circular in shape, with a hollow in the centre. At the spot where I conceal it in the ground there is a lizard, and this lizard lives in the hole in the stone. It is, in fact, the guardian [kai-tiaki] of the stone; it is the personification of a deity. The peculiar mana of the stone is made manifest in the water. When the season comes for catching the piharau (lampreys) in the Patea River, I unearth the stone, and take it down, to the river yonder, below my farm, and I place it in the water at a certain rock, reciting the ancient prayers. The efficacy of the mouri is there demonstrated by the great abundance of piharau. They are attracted to the spot in very great numbers and are in good fat condition, and our catch is large, season after season. We are particularly fond of this kind of riverfish because of the absence of bones. Our mouri-wai never fails us. It is of great antiquity; it is called The Great Whatu of Turi—who was our ancestral chief, twenty-four generations ago; he commanded the canoe Aotea which voyaged to this country from Tahiti. This is not the only sacred whatu of the fisheries used in Taranaki to-day. There is a similar stone kept near the mouth of the Tangahoe River; it is revered by the people there, and is placed in the water, with invocations to the atua, when the fishing time comes round.”

So spoke grey old Tu-Patea, a thoroughgoing type of the conservative race, who fought the pakeha strenuously in his day. He was always delighted to recall the past, and we went over some of the old battlefields together and he described events of the 1868–69 campaign on the spot from the Maori standpoint, or rather shooting point. He has gone to the Reinga now, but all his curious lore has not perished with him. There are still certain elders in the West Coast tribes who treasure some of the ancient ways.

Some Bush Medicine Lore.

There are medicinal virtues in many of our native trees and shrubs, uses imperfectly known to the pakeha as yet, but well appreciated by the Maoris who know the bush. These healing virtues of the indigenous vegetation are one of the many reasons why New Zealanders should strive for the preservation of the forests and the cultivation of the beautiful and useful plants. Imperfectly known to the pakeha; still, many backblocks men and women long ago discovered the goodness in emergency of such bush remedies as decoctions of koromiko leaves for dysentry, the boiled juice of flax-roots for medicine and the curing of cuts, the bark of the pukatea tree for toothache. There is a wide field for chemical research in investigating the Maori bush pharmacopeia.

Some plants have their uses for the brewing of tonics and stomachics, such as the kohekohe. Others are greatly efficacious as dressings for wounds and skin troubles; the kohukohu moss that hangs from forest trees is one of these. Besides the pukatea tree, the ngaio, so plentiful about Wellington and South Island Coasts, can be turned to account as a relief for toothache; another is the kawakawa, which is also a remedy for colds. So, too, I am told, is the kumarahou plant, so plentiful on the North Auckland hills, once covered with kauri forest. The inner bark of the rata vine, boiled, is said to be an excellent cure for open wounds. The pith of the korau, or mamaku, fern-tree is a good dressing for sores and chafings; it is applied raw. The leaves of the tarata, and several other small aromatic shrubs, chewed and made into a kind of paste, have often proved good medicine for application to saddle-sore horses. The small globules on some kinds of seaweed are sometimes chewed by the Maoris and used as a gargle or spray for sore throats. The secret of this seaweed remedy seems to be that the globules contain iodine.

Our New Zealand Board of Scientic Research might very profitably devote some attention to this apparently limitless branch of our country's natural resources, and begin by enlisting the help of the old men and women —especially the women—of the ancient bush-wise people, particularly in such places as Taranaki and the Urewera Country.

Towser, Schnauzer and Co.

The huge Alsatian dog one sees occasionally stalking the place like a policeman is not beloved by the farmer, and is out of place in the towns. Unemployment is just as bad for dogs as for men. The only excuse for keeping a dog is that it is of some use. I wonder what possible excuse can be found for the latest doggy importation into New Zealand, as reported from Auckland. This is a pair of what are described as Schnauzer dogs, pepper-and-salt of colour, shaggy of coat, with “exceptionally large paws.” (Remember Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf: “Oh, grandmamma, what large teeth you have!” “All the better to bite you with my dear!”)

The Schnauzer is German of breed. It may be of use in its homeland, but the sheepfarmer in New Zealand is quite content with the Scotch and other varieties of shepherd-dog he has already, and the cow-farmer is not looking for any barking strangers. All things considered, the Towser we know is preferable to the Schnauzer we don't.