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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times

The influence of mind upon the Maori

page 77

The influence of mind upon the Maori.

Attention has been drawn to the effect of suggestion in influencing disease as shown in tapu and makutu. The nervous system of the savage, along certain directions, is more unstable than that of the more civilised races. To a certain extent it is more liable to respond to stimulation of an emotional or exciting nature. It approaches what Guthrie says of the neurotic temperament, "Together with emotional excitability in one or other of these directions, there may be deficient development of control, deficient powers of judgement as to the weight of the cause which excites the emotion, which cause is exagerated by process of imagination and want of experience". This temperament is perpetuated by direct inheritance. The lack of judgement of the higher centres, combined with defect of inhibition or of control by the higher over the lower centres which exists in childhood, is true to a large extent of the less educated brain. The result is that some powerful emotional stimulus such as that of fear of witchcraft or the transgression of tapu, owing to defective inhibition or control of the higher centres, is communicated to the lower centres. The vital processes are depressed; shock and fatal melancholia are produced. There are numerous instances both in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands of people dying through tapu and witchcraft. Just as there is an individual instability of the Nervous System, so in the case of the Maori, there is a racial instability. This instability could be made use of by direct suggestion, as in witchcraft and knowingly breaking tapu, or by secondary suggestion when any illness had brought the instability into prominence.

The environment of the people was such as to aid the operation of suggestion very effectively. To the racial instability of the nervous system, a vivid imagination and a rich legendary and folk-lore, was added the awe of the supernatural forces everywhere existant, and the dread of the priests and wizards. The priests, I feel sure, had brought with them from page 78the East, some of those strange powers of hypnotism possessed by many of the Eastern races. The graduation ceremony of the student, where some miracle was performed before the people, seems to point to the fact that the power of hypnotising several people at once, as is sometimes done by Indian conjurers and mystics, was possessed also by the tohungas. The power of withering green branches and then restoring them, has been vouched for by several Maoris of integrity and it is on record that the missionary Mr. Chapman saw the aged tohunga Unuaho perform the same feat. No doubt it was straight out hypnotism. Ventriloquism was also used by some schools to impress the people with their supernatural powers. Manning was at a night seance where Papahurihia of the North called up his god who conversed with him from the roof of the meeting house whilst the people were thrown into a state of wild excitement.

In tapu it will be noted that the person had to know that the spot was tapu ere he was affected. Then again, the tapu was usually local. It rarely affected outside tribes, showing that they had to be educated as the local supernatural powers and places. The waters of a certain stream in Wairarapa, in which a number of chiefs were killed, is supposed to cause illness to members of that particular tribe if they partake of the waters. It does not affect other tribes because the tapu is not theirs. In other words they have not been educated to fear it. The suggestion has not been implanted. I heard an old man of the Waikatos say that he could not be affected by witchcraft. Its power lay in arousing fear and he did not fear it. He said further that if the people considered a man as a death-dealing tohunga, though that man had not been taught the incantations of witchcraft, yet he could kill through the fear in which he was regarded. The old man was a good psychologist. Suggestion, to work its utmost, must be supported by fear and belief page 79in the powers of the priest. The priests took care by means of hypnotism, ventriloquism and elaborate ritual that fear and respect should be maintained in the minds of the people.

Night terrors caused by deficiency of oxygen, complex dream hallucinations with visual aura and day terrors were also factors in contributing to the influence of mind in suggesting illness or death.

The influence of mind is clearly seen in the different reaction of the Maori to wounds and to disease. Innumerable cases are on record of wonderful recoveries from wounds in the Maori wars and the war with the Europeans. Veterans of both races have told me of cases which Europeans regarded as hopeless. Yet the Maoris made perfect recoveries in spite of their crude surgery. Why? Because the vitality of the race was superior and, because they knew it was a weapon or a bullet that had caused the wound, they had no fear of the supernatural. Contrast this with the effect of disease upon them. The Maori succumbed to complaints which the European regards as trivial. His body is strong, his organs are sound but in disease the mental factor comes in. Once the fear of the supernatural enters his mind, unless it is removed, he dies. Tuhoro, a priest of the deepest tapu, who survived entombing in his house under masses of mud and ashes from the Tarawera eruption of 1886, died at once when he was bathed in hot water and his sacred looks out by the thoughtless Europeans in the Rotorua Hospital. The influence of mind for life or death was used by the ancient tohunga as friendship or enmity demanded.