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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times



Steam baths were used particularly for the pains of after birth. A long even was prepared by heating stones, upon which certain green branches such as the manuka (lepto spermum scoparium) or kawakawa (piper excelsum) were placed. Some water was sprinkled on, and mats placed over the whole. Upon this the patient reclined and derived all the advantages of a vapour bath, the steam arising from the stones and leaves being supposed to have the medicinal virtue of the particular plants used.

Hot stones wrapped in a piece of fibre garment were often applied to painful or swollen parts to obtain relief.

Another method of steaming especially applied to painful piles, or spear wounds, was to heat two or three stones in a small hole, place some of the medicinal herbs upon them, sprinkle some water on the stones, place a funnel of totara (podocarpus totara) bark over the hole and then sit over, or place the wound over, the upper end of the funnel when the afflicted part was effectively steamed. In the case of wounds this process was known as "tahutahu". From what we have said of 'tapu' it will be readily understood that to use stones previously used in cooking ovens would be to court disaster.

Scarifying the skin with sharp shells or a piece of obsidian flake was often resorted to in cases of head-aches, swellen joints or pains in other parts.

Amongst the Northern tribes, there is a curious custom for getting rid of pains in the back or loins. This consisted of getting a "whanau waewae" (a person born feet first-a breach presentation) to tread upon the part. The significance of this I did not quite catch. Certainly "whanau waewaes" are supposed to have qualities out of the common. In these days a good athlete of a daring temperament is called a "whanau waewae."

Pressure by means of tight binding with a belt, garment page 70or strands of rope were often resorted to for the relief of pains in the chest, abdomen or head.