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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times



The methods and ideas in connection with disease were inseparably connected with their religious beliefs, or rather views of the supernatural. To throw light upon their medical practice it is necessary to detail briefly some of their spiritual concepts.

That the Maori's power of abstract thought is very high is conclusively proved by Elsden Best, who had the advantage of living amongst the most conservative of Maori tribes, the U[unclear: r]eweras. This tribe has preserved ancient incantations and modes of thought down to comparatively recent times.

The Maoris were polytheists. Like other races on a lower culture stage, their gods were the offspring of their imagination and fear. They were to be dreaded as gods who pun-page 7-ished and thus the appropriate ritual, observances and incantations had to be gone through to propitiate them in order to avert disaster and misfortune. In this they were like the Romans whose religion was not a theology: "it did not teach men what the gods were in themselves: but only what were the duties which men owed to them, and how they might secure their favour*". With the Maori as with the Roman, the customs of his fathers required him to repeat certain incantations and offer certain sacrifices (the first fish, bird, fruits of the earth) at certain times and seasons. This was his bounden duty (religio). In the case of the Maori there was a large element of fear which prevented his haggling and making such close bargains with his gods as the Romans did.