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The New Zealand Evangelist

Superstitions still among the New Zealanders

Superstitions still among the New Zealanders.

Notwithstanding the saving effects of Missionary influence and instruction, superstition still exists in New Zealand. An interesting young man named Isaiah, has lately departed this life at Wangaehu, near Wanganui, who has been for some time taught in our schools, and who died without giving any account of his state page 136 and feelings. His relations are but partially enlightened. It has been the custom from time immemorial on the death of any one to bury his property with him; and on this occasion the sisters of this young man buried with him five Testaments, one Church Prayer-book, one Wesleyan Hymn-book, his pipe and several sticks of Tobacco, putting all with him into his coffin! They will not give up their foolish superstitions, which tends to perpetuate the ignorance which still exists. The following is another instance. There have lately been some violent outbreaks of water from subterraneous caverns in the vicinity of Wangaehu, sweeping all before them into the sea, which the natives attribute to an eight-legged crocodile, which they call a Taniwha, and say the monster is one of their tupunas, i.e., ancestor. Though these are strange phenomena yet they are natural, and may be accounted for by the following facts:—The Wangaehu river is fed by snow from the Tongariro mountain. This river winds its way through a tract of land, the soil of which is nothing but gravel and pumice stone. The bed of the river is the same, and shallow from the mouth to the source. This being its state, when there is a heavy fresh from the mountain, much water escapes in its passage to the sea, and its reservoirs are filed. Its being pent up, accumulating, and then escaping suddenly, accounts for its subsequent effects. The natives say that in a late outbreak of water, the Taniwha drifted on shore near Manawatu, was cut up and a part eaten by those who found it adding that they were all ill who had partaken! It is, however, evident that such things as crocodiles, or alligators, did exist formerly in great numbers on this island. The Wangaehu district has been buried by pumice stone and other matter, driven from the Tongariro mountain. If such creatures did exist, they have been buried beneath, and are likely to be thrown up by such outbreaks in a petrified or fossilized state, and so give rise to these superstitions which are a great hindrance to the progress of Christianity.

An old man, a priest, who resides at Waitotara, near Wanganui, continues to deceive the people by pretending to heal the sick. When the invalid can be taken to him, he or she is ready with an offering, without which no good can be effected. He then plays the part of a Ventriloquist, (like Papahurihia in Hokianga) and makes the supposed god, of whom he is the priest, to speak from over his head, which is understood to be his seat! The words used are generally such as are only understood by tohungas,, i. e. priests, who pretend to interpret to the supplicants according to their several cases. Like the oracles of old they pretend to decide for life or death,—though at times, being too sanguine as to the recovery of the person, or through malice too wishful for the individual's death, they expose themselves by giving a wrong answer. When the patient cannot be carried to the priest, some one is deputed by him or her, to take an offering of tobacco, or some other article known to be in requisition, and to make enquiry of the priest, who pretends to offer apart to the god, with an invocation for his aid, stating that the individual will recover. If the person returns and page 137 finds the invalid is dead, the priest attributes it to some fault in the offering, or sin in the one who brought it! &c. A case occurred not long since. A young woman was taken ill. Her husband after some time applied to the oracle, an old priest, who assured him that his wife would recover. The silly man believed him, and came back with joy; but his joy was soon turned into sorrow and disappointment, for on arriving at his house, he found her dying! This is only one of a number of cases, by which the people are deceived by the old ritenga maori, i. e. native custom.