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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



Massage with coconut oil is the general treatment for all pains and soreness. After strenuous work or when a person is exceedingly tired, it is customary to have two young girls or boys of the house massage (lomilomi) and pummel (tukituki) the whole body. In sickness from any cause the aching part is rubbed. Aside from the relief that massage usually gives, it is believed that pain and fever can be rubbed out. Soreness moves into other parts of the body from the stomach through the arteries and veins, and by massage can be pushed back.

Massage for a feverish headache is intended to carry the fever out of the head, through the neck, and back into its seat in the lower abdomen. The doctor commences by rubbing the neck in a downward motion with the tips of his fingers over the jugular vein. He then works on the forehead, com- page 71 mencing with his fingers deep in the eye socket and against the bridge of the nose and stroking upward and outward across the eyebrows and temples. The stroking is continued upward and outward, gradually moving higher from the center of the forehead until the hair line is reached. Then the massaging moves to the “center of the head”, a point measured from the tip of the nose to the point on the top of the skull by stretching the thumb and tip of the second finger. With thumbs pressed on this point, the massagist rubs with his finger tips down the sides of the head and up the occipito-parietal suture and down again over the occiput into the neck, rubbing this part well. In the next step he rubs the back muscles along the spine until he reaches the small of the back. Here he rubs across the sacrum “putting the fever back into its place”. He finishes by cauterizing the two muscles that run from the back of the neck to the shoulder.

Soreness in the arm and shoulder is supposed to be centered in the scapula (ivi sa). Pressure applied with the thumbs to the center of this bone and a few inches down on the arm from the shoulder is thought to relieve the pain. This is followed by cauterization along an artery in the axillary region, through which the pain is supposed to pass into the arm. For inflammation and swelling in the axillary region, common in the beginning of filariasis, a ring of five spots is cauterized, surrounded by lighter burns. If pain is located in the upper arm, the elbow is cauterized twice on the inside and once on the outside. For a pain in the forearm, the wrist is cauterized three times in a line on the back and again on the inside.

Soreness in the chest is removed by massage and cautery. Rubbing begins at the shoulders and moves along the clavicle to the breast bone and then along the intervals between each rib, massaging away from the breast bone to carry the soreness into the back. Finally pressure is applied by the hands over the diaphragm.

Earache is treated by massaging along the anterior border of the mastoid process, along the lower mandible away from the ear, and then over the rim of the ear to the auricle, which is pulled several times to extract the pain which has been forced into it.

For stiffness in the neck the massagist kneads and rubs the neck muscles downward, continuing the pressure along the inner border of the scapula. At the end of each stroke he holds his fingers down and pulls the skin taut, keeping the cause of the soreness from reëntering the neck. When he has completed the massage, he cauterizes the stiff part of the neck in three places. A sore throat is relieved by massage and drinking the juice of coconuts heated on an oven.

Hydrocele in the scrotum, caused by filaria, is not infrequent among the men. To relieve the enlargement the scrotum is massaged until it breaks. Massage is also employed to enlarge the scrotum, in some cases even drawing page 72 it as far down as the knees. This is believed to be a relief and to cure it from further swelling.

The new-born child is massaged daily by some woman of the house and by the mother as soon as she is able. The chief purpose is to make a well-shaped body with straight limbs. Especial attention is paid to the head and nose to insure natural formation, although the bridge of the nose is often pinched to make it high. No attempts are made to change the natural shape of the occiput or to flatten the alae of the nose, as is practiced among the Tongans. The child is carefully laid on one side and then on the other to avoid flattening one side of the head more than the other. The buttocks are shaped to give them full roundness, and the genitals massaged to make them well formed and to prevent swelling of these parts in later life. This is an attempt to avoid the advanced symptoms of filarial infection. It is also done to older children who continue to wet their mats after an age when the habit should be overcome. The anus is gently pressed in during the early months of life to prevent a dropping of that part in old age.

A broken bone is set by careful massaging. It is wrapped in a soft padding of puka leaves encased in a pliable young sheath (taume) of a coconut blossom. This splint is removed every two days and the fracture rubbed lightly with coconut oil, after which the limb is wrapped in a fresh sheath.