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Mahoe Leaves; Being a Selection of Sketches of New Zealand and Its Inhabitants, and Other Matters Concerning Them


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In a copy of a very old book originally published at Newcastle, which proposed to give some of the receipts of the noble science of witchcraft as practised on the Borders, among a lot of these receipts, the concoction and ingredients ef which make the witches cauldron in Macbeth appear a pleasant sort of soup, I found the following:—“To see strange sights, anoint your eyes with the gall of a bat and the fat of a hen.” Without killing either bats or hens, for this said purpese, I have seen some strange sights in this country. I have seen the British flag as it floats over these shores, instead of tough bunting, turn out to be sorry fustian, blown all to ribbons in the gale of rebellion; I have seen English law and order set at defiance by a pack of semi-barbarians; military men with a couple of thousand British bayonets at their disposal, bearded by a handful of half naked savages armed with old muskets and fowling pieces; and property destroyed by a band of half armed natives, under the nose of a garrison. The bats and fowls may go to hades, before I slaughter them for the purpose of “seeing strange sights.” Some of the strange sights I have seen, I have already chronicled in these sketches, and one of the strangest I now proceed to describe. The noble science of Makutu (witchcraft) as practised by the inhabitants of “Our Pah.”

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Whether owing to bad sanitary regulations, personal uncleanliness, over eating, or the third plague of Egypt, I do not know; but many of the inhabitants were “taken worse” some time ago. One or two of the children died, old Lazarus was laid up, and so many complaining, that things began to look rather serious about there. A very offensive tattoed party, whose name I did not enquire, so will here term him Beelzebub, (as being most appropriate to his calling, was sent for, he being a poropiti (prophet) of the mysteries of Makutu, who at once gave it as his opinion, that lizards were at the bottom of the mischief; the tapu on some land had been broken, and suggested the expediency of a (kai ngarara) forthwith.

Except to a person well up in Maori, it is not an easy matter to make out how the lizards are to blame for these evils; but so far as I can understand, it appears that when old Maories die, their shades haunt certain places in the form of lizards; and that parties walking over the spot where these lizards dwell, are forthwith bewitched. If the lizards are caught and killed, the enchantment is at an end, and no fear of any further mischief. This very likely is a very vague and unsatisfactory explanation, but no matter for that, Makutu exists as an institution, its practice is on the increase, and that is sufficient for me at present.

Some days after receiving the intelligence of the arrival of the poropiti, I was out near the pah, when I suddenly came upon a group of individuals promenading in a circle, apparently engaged in search of something, and arranged so that if the first man missed it the next being close on his heels, might have a chance of finding it. It was Beelzebub, Malachi, and a number of his people at work lizard page 77 hunting. If lizards are verminn, and their object was simply to get rid of them, I have heard of a simpler plan than this I am about to describe, which, while I reremember I may as well quote.

Och! Antrim hill is very high, and so is the hill of Howth too,
But I’ve heard of another hill, that’s higher than them both too;
’Twas on the top of this high hill, St. Patrick preached his sarmint.
He drove the frogs into the bogs, and banished all the varmint.

But St. Patrick was a saint, whereas Beelzebub is exactly the reverse, hence their systems differ. But to my tale.

The circular promenade continued for some time, when suddenly they came to a dead stop, and Beelzebub pounced like a tom cat on something in the fern! This was unfortunate lizard number one. The procession continued, gradually contracting the limits of the circle, and by the time they had finished Beelzebub had caught two more. All this time the greatest solemnity was observed. The poropiti then kindled a fire, and proceeded with the greatest coolness to roast these wretched reptiles; repeating in a low moaning tone an incantation, as the poor lizards slowly frizzling. The burden of this incantation I did not then know, but have since seen a translation of it. I can’t remember the exact words, but I can give a quotation from an American poet that will give the reader a fair idea of its import. The passage occurs in a chorus to one of the songs of the Christy Minstrels, and runs as follows:

“Flip up in the scidamadinck jube up in the jubin jube!”

The lizards nearly calcined; the poropiti sung out something, and the whole crowd at once covered their faces and dropped into the attitude of prayer; and I was subsequently led to understand, that at page 78 this identical juncture, the souls of the departed vacated the bodies of the lizards—(as well they might.)

Whether they became stars in the firmament, or entered the bodies of other lizards, I did not enquire. Beelzebub swore hard and fast “that he saw them go;” so I suppose they did. Anyhow, the “tapu” was gone, and no one going over that spot would catch the lumbago, colic, or any other disease. And, so far the arrangement was satisfactory.

After this, the poropiti produced some potatoes, which he proceeded to roast in the ashes, and during the process of cookery, some sort of a hymn was sung, or rather chanted, the name of which I did not learn; but the words sounded (sinking the final,) something like the chorus of frogs in the Ranæ of Aristophanes. “Brekkekkikex! Koax! Koax!”

The above very senseless mummery, was enacted by the most enlightened aborigines in the world, in the year of grace 1862, in the forty seventh of the introduction of Christianity among them, and close to a mission station.

If this had been an isolated case, I do not know that I should have written anything about it; but as Makutu happens to be in full force all over the country at present, and is by no means confined to the “old people,” rather the reverse in fact, it is worth “making a note of,” as Captain Cuttle would say.

Beelzebub shortly after tried his hand at curing a sick man, not by electro-magnetism but by Makutu.

I had the curiosity to have some conversation with him on the subject. I found him to be excessively stupid, but he had such a lot of nostrums for healing the sick, causing ladies favorable confine-page 79ments, and banishing evils generally, that the disciples of Reichenbach, and Odic Force, may in future shut up—Beelzebub beats them hollow.

In the course of conversation, I asked him if he was a Christian, and believed in the Bible? which he said “he did.” “I asked him if he was not afraid of being punished for idolatry, as the Israelites were?” He replied “that I could not possibly understand the Maori gods—my God was a very good God, but Maori gods were very (Mauahara) revengeful, and that unless he looked out, and appeased them, the Maories would suffer—It was a system far beyond my comprehension.” I did not bandy any further remarks with him.

A few days later, he commenced his Makutu on old Lazarus.

This very wretched old man had got the idea into his head, that some lizard was in his inside, and preying on his vitals; Beelzebub said it was the case likewise, so that between them, it must have been so. Anyway, the lizard had to be got out, or whatever it was.

Lazarus had been shifted about, from place to place for many months, never stopping above a week or two at one spot, and wherever he went, the lizard would persist in following him, at least so said Malachi.

I am not naturalist enough to know what lizards feed on exactly, but if they are partial to fleas, and other vermin, I can understand their following old Lazarus.

I happened to drop in upon him, when the Makutu was going on.

Beelzebub sat alongside him muttering away and fumbling with two pieces of stick, while three or four women sat at some distance away from him, “tangiing” sotto voce.

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It was a particularly solemn sight; a trifle stupid perhaps, but that was nothing! They had read the Church prayers over him in the morning, and now they were doing a little Makutu.

Beelzebub said something about “sacrificing a dog to Emaru, if Lazarus got no better,” being about the only sensible idea, that I heard from him; for Lazarus owns a vile cur, that it would be a good riddance if he were annihilated.—Anyway, the devil, or ngarara, or whatever it was, was ultimately got out of Lazarus,—Beelzebub saw it go like a blue flame, at least so he said, and in three months Lazarus was to be himself again.

This was capital news for the old man, and he gave himself an extra scratching on the strength of it. It is now six weeks since the Makutu took place, and if anything, Lazarus is rather worse. He got much better for a week, according to his own account, from the effect of Beelzebub’s incantation; but this temporary recovery, I attribute to a good dose of Epsom salts that I gave him, and if he used a little soap and water, and left off eating putrid corn and other filth, I see no reason why there is not “life in the old dog yet.”

This intensely insane system, has been carried on throughout the country, at a great rate, during the past year. Strange effects have been produced by the Poropitis and Arikis of the temple of Makutu. Peccant Magdalenes have divulged their liasons; lovers the names of their divulged inamoratos; thieves given up stolen property, or been terrified into it; and no end of diseases cured. What does it all mean?

If I ask Clericus, he is down on me with every parallel instance he can gather, from the Israelites and the Golden Calf, to the worship of idols by the page 81 early christians—He travels the wide world through civilized and savage, and points out so much idolatry and superstition existing, that Makutu sinks into insignificance. This of course is very well, so far as it goes, and I may as well state here, that I am glad to find Clericus setting manfully to work, to root out Makutu—He falls foul of, and routs old Beelzebub and his gang, wherever he can catch them at their Makutu, or lizard hunts; and he won’t admit any of them to his sacraments, when he finds them out. So far I applaud him;—but I object to his arguments altogether.

I don’t believe in his comparisons between Maories and civilized nations. He has no more right to compare them with those nations as a community, than he has to compare gipsies and the scum of Christendom, with the English Bench of Bishops He may talk indeed of foolish old women hanging horseshoes to their doors, crossing knives in a thunderstorm, or believing in all sorts of messages from the other world, by coals flying out of the grate howling dogs, the dregs of a tea cup, or flaring candlewicks; but because he finds so many foolish old women in a community!—is that any reason why the whole nation is to be dabbed superstitious or benighted? If darkness spiritual, appears in the agricultural districts of England, or in the purlieus of English and continental towns, have the inhabitants had the same spiritual advantages as the Maories? I rather doubt it. Has the old religion of the Makutu been eradicated, or is it only slumbering? In a word, are the religious opinions of the Maories permanent? or do they possess any?

We look with dismay, at the Jesuit Missions and the system they adopted, where four or five page 82 thousand Indians were baptized, a small crucifix suspended from their necks, thereupon termed Christians, and enrolled among the list of proselytes. This was a very melancholy and queer kind of evangelization. When Mrs. Grundy read it in a Missionary Magazine, she was shocked, and when an honest grocer at Peckham, with whom she deals, who is the minister of the chapel of Little Bethel, next door to Mrs. G’s., read it in the number she lent him, and forthwith told it from the pulpit; there arose such a groaning among the congregation (they can groan some—the Little Bethel folks can) that it was dismal to hear. Yet the question is, are the Maories any better than these Indians? Is not civilization turning out Christianity.

An obscure minister of the church (of whom nobody has heard of course), stated at the commencement of the N.Z. Mission, that “civilization must be the pioneer of Christianity” (vide life of the Rev. S. Marsden, p 56—Peruse thàt book reader!) Have subsequent events proved him right?—Are the Maories, who in anything move by fits and starts, relapsing into their old religion?

I know that the worship of Rongo (the god of crops), has been restored to the northward, and only a short time ago, a tribe had it under consideration whether they should not renounce Christianity altogether.

These things look rather queer! In the midst of all these unpleasantries, however, it is a source of satisfaction, not to have heard as yet that the settlers are the cause of this. This (Makutu) is one of the very few evils that they have not introduced (that is to say according to Clericus).

We have not introduced Makutu! What a gratifying reflection! So much so that I can lay page 83 down my pen, and take leave of this subject, with a conscience clear upon the point, that I have had nothing to do with it.

Makutu and Cannibalism, appear to be the only two I am not blamed for, (though I encouraged the latter by buying dried heads for my museum)—I have been a horrid wretch to these Maories and no mistake!

But I am clear upon one charge—I did not import Makutu!

What a blessing!!