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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times

Some of the Diseases Amongst the Ancient Maori

page 71

Some of the Diseases Amongst the Ancient Maori.

Skin Diseases.

These must have been common judging from the number of Maori words applying to different condition of the skin.
Huahua.pimples, acne.
Whewhe.boil, furuncle.
Tapoa.carbuncle, abscess.
Pukupuku.any eruption of a papular nature.
Paipai.probably eczema intertrigo, since applied to venereal disease.
Patito.ringworm, eczema capitis or most skin troubles of the head.
Hakihaki.impetigo, sometimes applied to eczema which has come on after scabies.
Pokapoka.ulceration, sometimes applied to hura.
Hura.tubercular ulceration of the neck.
The frequency of skin diseases was probably due to the diet. Most skin diseases were looked upon as simple but pokapoka and hura were due to demons. Where skin diseases were obstinate the supernatural causation became established.

Diseases of the Eye.

Conjunctivitis caused by the smoky atmosphere of the houses was common especially amongst the women. Blepharitis marginalis was also common. Cataract was frequently seen.

Toriwai. conjunctivitis.
Toretore. blepharitis marginalis.
Kiritona. chalazion.
Paehena. inflamation of the cheek caused by the discharge of purulent conjunctivitis.
Paua. Opacity of the cornea.
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Toothache was supposed to be caused by a "tunga" or grub which attacked the fang of the tooth. Incantations were repeated to expel this ancient microbe. In some cases a piece of "wiwi" (rush) was placed with the root end against the tooth, during the incantation, to provide a path of exit. Best mentions the heroic treatment of placing a piece of wood against the tooth and giving the other end a blow. He also mentions holding a mouthful of morning urine until the grub is killed.


That tuberculosis existed amongst the Maoris before the advent of the Europeans, I feel certain.

Phthisis. When I had diagnosed the ailment of the grand-daughter of the venerable tatooed Hitiri te Paerata as phthisis, he placed his hand upon my knee and said, "My son this disease has been in our family for generations. He momo matou no taua mate. We inherit that disease. "It is called "kohi" by the Maoris. The name refers to the wasting effect of the disease. It is also called "Kaiuaua" by some tribes, the meaning being similar. Both kohi and kaiuaua are ancient Maori words. They were regarded essentially as conditions produced by the attack of demons. Earle who was in New Zealand in 1827 remarked on them number of cases he saw about Taupo and the hopeless attitude which the Maoris took towards the disease. They said it was due to the attack of an atua and it was useless to struggle against it. The Maoris recognise that the tendency to "kohi" runs in certain families. It is usually attributed to makutu aimed at a certain family with the view of causing it to die out. Such a family is a "whare ngaro" or lost house. The children will die, there being perhaps only a single survivor out of a large family. Unless some tohunga of power can remove the cause, the family will die out. An elderly man amongst the Nga-Puhi, who suffered from tubercular disease of the hip in childhood, informed me that he lost 9 brothers and sister from page 73 the kohi disease because his mother trespassed on a tapu spot when in her first pregnancy. He, the youngest, was the only one to survive but he has one leg shorter than the other as a result of tubercle. There are numbers of leading families now almost extinot, the reson, in most cases, being attributed to past witchcraft. This distinctive feature of inherited tendency with wasting disease (kohi) leads me to claim that tuberculosis was present in ancient days.

Bone Disease.

Bone disease was also common. In the North I picked up the trail of a Maori disease demon named "Toketoke". His bite was usually directed towards the lower extremity. Redness, swelling, pain, came on usually over the tibia. Then an absces formed which discharged quantities of pus and very often pieces of bone. Toketoke sometimes attacked the arm, thigh or back. At a large meeting, I was told of a case of Toketoke. The old men with tohungaistio proolivities said the case showed the pathognomonic signs of Toketoke. I saw the case which proved to be a typical one of tubercular disease of the tibia, with suppurating sinuses discharging pus and pieces of bone. I asked the old men how long Toketoke had been in existance and they carried his origin back several generations sufficient to prove his pre-European existence. The term "kaiuaua" is also applied to these bone diseases. Bones from old burial places have been found to show a necrosis with the formation of a sequestrum and sinuses.

Tuberculosis of The Glands.

This form of the disease is very common and many Maoris are seen at present with fearfully scarred and disfigured necks. The condition is looked upon as ancient, to be due to disease atuas and to descend in families. The condition has old Maori names, "hura" and "hore".

Tubercular Ulcers.

Ulcers no doubt of a tubercular nature were termed "pokapoka". They are said to be due to the gods Papaka or Ruamano.

Abdominal Tuberculosis.

Many of the cases of great wasting due to abdominal tubercle are included under the terms "kohi" and kaiuaua and took part in creating a "where ngaro" or lost house.

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Leprosy was an ancient disease. It was called "ngerengare", "tuwhenua" or "tuhawaiki". It was attributed by the other tribes to have originated with the Ngati-whatua tribe or Kaipara. The Ngati-Whatua in their legends say that leprosy came form the fatherland Hawaiki in its own canoe. It was supposed by the Maoris to be caused in three ways.

(1)Haridity. Certain families were supposed to be prone to the disease. The disease might miss a generation or two and then reappear.
(2)Infection. The places where lepers lived were supposed to be infectious. Lepers were isolated away from the villages in ancient times. They were carefully avoided except by those who conveyed food. The urine was considered especially contagious. To walk over places where lepers had micturated was to court disaster. This is interesting in view of the fact that the bacillus lepra is to be found in the urine of lepers. Near Maungatautari is a spot which has been an ancient leper colony. It passed into the hands of Europeans who employed a Maori to burn the fern. He returned to his village ill. On being questioned he told where he had been working. It was recognised as a leper place. The man developed leprosy. The burning or fern or rubbish over these spots is held to be very dangerous, either when the smoke is about or when the dust or ashes are liable to be inhaled. The cave of Oremu near Taupo was used for isolating lepers. In the north amongst the Rarava tribe there is a district named Herekino where leprosy was so prevalent that people feared to pass through the distriot. A saying was applied to it.

E kore koe e puta [unclear: I] to taru Herekino.
You will not escape from the evil weed of Herekino.

(3)Witchcraft. Like many of the other disease it could be imparted by the process of witchcraft. This was termed "were ngerengere". The priests or tohungas having authority with the gods of leprosy could afflict persons with the disease. It was thus a form of makntu but worse then the sudden death dealing page 75variety, in that the afflicted person became a pariah and an outcast and died slowly. It was a power wielded by the Ngatiwhatua division dwelling near Helensville. One of the last to use the power was the aged chieftainess Te Ngau-toka whose god was Tu-hope-tiki. The power however had certain restriction against abuse. To Ngan-toka's descendants tell me that she could not use it except against someone who had personally injured her. When asked by someone to use is on their behalf against an enemy. Te Ngan-toka refused, saying that the person had done her no harm and that under those conditions Tu-hope-tiki would not obey. The Maoris say that on one occasion she punished a European who had insulted her and that he died of leprosy. Such was the fear of Ngati-Whatua, that Paora Tuhaere used this fear to recover a large sum of money that had been stolen from one of his tribesmen at a large meeting held in Waikato. Although Paora did not have any power to call up Tu-hope-tiki, the guardian or leprosy, he announced publicly that If the money were not returned in 12 hours, he would afflict the thief with leprosy. Headless to say the money found its way back to the rightful owner in a few minutes.

The disease was very widely spread in ancient times, all the tribes knowing it under one or other of its names. In the Aupouri district, there is a place named Pāina, meaning to back in the sun. Hare the lepers used to back in the sun. However Kaipara and Taupo are the districts where it was most prevalent.

There have been few cases of late years. Dr. A.S. Thomsen saw six cases in the early days. He gave the first description of it in 1884 in the Brit. and Foreign Med. and chirurg. Review Thomson described it as lepra gangrenosa. I have seen one case at Whanganui.

Case. Whakahi a Whanganui Maori. His own version of the cause was witchcraft. In company with other Maoris he was betting on the totalisator at a race meeting. A dispute as to the sharing of their winnings led to an old Taupo man with alledged tohunga powers, accusing Whakahi of chaating. page 76Whakahi promptly cursed his accuser. Cursing is always a serious offence amongst Maoris. Some time after whakahi developed leprosy and at once thought of the Taupo tohunga as the cause.

When I saw the patient, he had lost his fingers and toes-lepra mutilans. There were no tuberous outgrowths on the face but the lower eyelids and lower jaw were drawn down. There were scaly patches on the arms and legs. The stumps of the fingers and toss were quite healed but there were ulcers on the soles of the feet. The stumps were unaesthetic. The disease has been dormant for some years now. The ulcers seen to be due to pressure and more of a trophic nature. He was isolated near his village and a small pension was granted to him by the Government to keep him in food.

Though the Maoris attribute heridity as a cause they do not say that a child is born with leprosy but that he is more likely to develope it, coming as he does from a leper family, than a child without a hereditary trait.

The Urewera Maoris according to Best attribute fish as a cause of the disease. In this they share Sir Jonathan Hutchinson's theory.

Te Ngau-toka's treatment of leprosy consisted of a mixture of two plants, kawakawa (piper excelsum) and ngaio (myh-porum latum) and human or dog's excreta. After taking the mixture the patient must not touch a dog or the treatment would fail.

I enclose pictures of Whakahi, the Whanganui leper.