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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times



The manifold manifestations of nature were personified as seen in the early genealogical tables which are an attempt at a cosmogony. Some of these forces are deified as gods. The Maori word "atua" means not only gods, as Europeans use the word, but demons, sprites and fairies. When firearms were first used against them, the Maoris fled from them with the cry "They are atuas".

Like many other races, they shared the idea of the earth-mother and sky-parent. Originally the sky (Rangi-nui) and the earth (Papatu-anuku) clave together in close embrace. Their children, Tu Matauenga (ancestor of man), Tawhiri matea (God of Storms), Tangaroa (god of the ocean, fish and shell-fish), Tane Mahuta (god of the forests and birds), Rongo (god of cultivated food) and Haururmia Tiketike" (god of uncultivated food), conspired against their parents to force them apart and let light into the world. This, they accomplished. To these gods incantations were repeated on appropriate occasions, as to Tu-mata-uenga for success in war, to Tane, when taking one of his children in the form of a tree to build a canoe, and to Rongo for success with crops. In fishing, besides the incantations, the first fish caught was returned to the ocean to propitiate Tangaroa and ensure a good catch, whilst the first fruits of the page 8earth were offered to Rongo. In these cases neglect of ceremony brought disaster, in the way if ill success in war fishing, crops, or bird hunting as the case might be. Besides as these principal gods, there were others of equal status, so to speak. They were mostly war gods, as may be readily understood from the warlike character of the people. Such were Maru, Rongomai, Kahukura and others, to whom the priests repeated incantations and went through certain ceremonies in time of war. The various tribes differed as to the god to whom they owed allegiance. Maru amongst the Whanganui tribes was a jealous god who was always hungry. In bird-hunting in the forests, the first killed bird had to be offered to Maru else he punished the offender by causing him to become insane, lose his way and meet death through accident or starvation. Hence he was known as "Maru-tangi-kai"-Maru who cries for food-and young people were carefully enjoined to observe the law. It is easy to follow that amongst these tribes the few accidents which occurred were invariably attributed to angering Maru by not giving him his due. The origin of all these gods took place in Hawaiki before the migration to New Zealand. They appeared to the people by certain set signs, by natural phenomena as shooting stars or rainbows, or by natural objects as birds or fish.

From the time, place and manner of the appearance, the priests interpreted whether success or disaster would attend their war party. So far as I can understand, the ordinary ailments of life were not in the province of these principal gods, but were rather the work of minor deities, or demons. The Maori term is "Atua", which applies not only to the gods we have enumerated, but also to a host of minor godlings or rather demons with whom we shall have to deal. These mino gods originated in a number of ways. Nearly all those whom I can trace, originated since the race came to New Zealand. No doubt the older godlings have been forgotten. They all emanated from man entirely, or in conjunction with the shades of the dead. In this respect they correspond to the page 9larvae or lemures of the Romans.

(1).The first group consists of the wairua (soul essence) of those who have died. A priest or chief of great power after death might return as an atua to the world of life, His descendants, especially is a priest, might call him up to consult him as to sickness, or war, and to use the dread which the knowledge of his communicating with families spirits, would inspire amongst the people. This inspired fear gave the priest immense power as it protected his property from theft, and his sacred places from contamination.
(2).Another group, so far as I can understand, were the offspring of a living woman and a man from the under-world, that is, of someone who had died. As a typical case in point let us take one of the gods of the Ngapuhi tribe. Eight generations ago, or roughly 200 years, there lived the celebrated Te Maawe, who, so tradition says, could fly through the air. His grand-daughter in her sleep was often visited by a figure of handsome human form who did not exist outside her dreams. He was recognised to be a shade, or a spirit, "he tangata no te po", "a man from the under-world." The woman conceived a male child who became the war-god of the tribe. He never died, but disappeared. He re-appears in bodily form to the tohungas who have the power to call him up. This is Te Nakahi.
(3).The third group consists of an actual man who bodily becomes an atua. An example of this is Puhi-kai-ariki, an atua of the Rarawa and Ngapuhi tribes. Puhi-kai-ariki was killed in battle some nine generations ago. The victors consigned his body to the oven, but when the hungry tribesmen opened up the oven Puhi had disappeared; by what means the historians record not, he reappeared in the sea as a taniwha, sea monster in the form of a whale and has ever since been an atua of those tribes.
4.The above three groups all have an influence in causing disease, but the most important group of all is the pres-page 10-ent. The above three groups all give expression to the fear that primitive man has for the dead. The soul or essence which disappeared at death was somewhere lurking about to punish him if he transgressed the laws. But more mischievous and deadly to the Maori mind was the spirit of those who had never reached full development. Such were still-born children, miscarriages, and abortions. If not carefully interred in some safe place, they would enter any living thing with which they came in contact, such as dogs, reptiles, birds, or fish, and immediately become a demon of intense malignity. These were the "atua kahukahu". It was not necessary even for an abortion to take place, for a careless woman allowing any menstrual discharge to be swallowed by a fish or other vertebrate animal, created another "atua kahukahu".

As an example of this class of demon, Te Makawe, the war-god of the Ngati-Whakaue tribe may be taken. Te Makawe originated by an abortion from a woman of high rank of the tribe. He appeared to the people in the form of a lizard when called upon by the priest or tohunga. There seems to have been no limit to the creating of these demons for the fact of some of them appearing as pigs, cattle, sheep, or horses, show that these originated only since the advent of white people. It may seem a paradox that they could enter gramnivorous animals like the sheep or horse, but it was quite sufficient for these animals to eat grass upon which menstrual fluid had fallen or diapers had been spread, to cause an atua kahukahu to originate within them.

A myth resembling the origination of demons of the second class is prevalent in districts inhabited by the "Patupararehi" or fairies. Men and women have been stated to have fairy wives and husbands who came to share their beds at night and disappeared ere dawn. Songs are on record supposed to have been sung by these "fairy" beings. Women have given birth to children by fairy fathers. In the case of an old man popularly said to have had a fairy wife, he page 11assured me that she was fair-complexioned, without tatooing, and of great beauty. She came at night and left ere dawn, and he copulated with her. He was married to a human wife at the time, who was much disgusted that he could not fulfil his marital duties owing to his frequent connection with his fairy wife.

These demons are represented by some material thing as in the case of the higher gods.

These are in both cases termed "aria", the material form or form of incarnation of the atua. As an example these following atuas have the following aria:-

God. Aria.
Tunui-a-e-ika Kereru (wood pigeon)
Te huki ta mokonoko (lizard)
Makawe Shooting Star or lizard.
Nenuku Rainbow
Kahutia Kaeaea (sparrow-hawk)
Te Ringi māi hau Kuri (dog)
Te whiwhiro Whirlwind (awhiowhio)

Spiritual concepts:—

As regards himself, in his relationship to the "atuas" we have already stated that the Maori's attitude was to avert misfortune and disaster. Though there seems to have been a worship of Ioiowhenua who was a good and beneficent deity and of Rongo who corresponds to the Roman Ceres and promoted peace as well, the Maori lived in fear of his gods.

What corresponds somewhat to the European soul was the "wairua". This was the shadowy essence or spirit of man. It left his body in dreams and wandered off into divers places. In severe illness it wandered away and in fatal cases never returned. At the northern extremity of the North Island is situated "Te Rerenga-wairua", the "departing place of spirits". When anyone dies, the spirit or wairua leaves the body and travels north towards the departpage 12-ing place of spirits. Passing along a stretch of sandy beach, the hillock of "Te arai" is reached where the spitit leaves an offering-a piece of seaweed if he comes from the coast, fern from the fern lands of Taranaki, or nikau palm from the dense forests of Tane. Above the Rerengawairua is the Summit of Haumu where the spirit turns and looking back bids farewell to the world of light and of being. Descending the cliff by means of the hanging root of a pohutukawa tree he reaches the lone and desolate shore. Crossing to the dark hole in the sea besides which swirls the seaweed of Motau, he enters the portals of the Reinga or "under-world," there to dwell with the thousands who have gone before. Cases have been recorded of spirits coming back and their owners recovering and describing the wonders they have seen. Some spirits have returned after death as deified ancestors and correspond as we have stated to the larvae or lemures of the Romans. In witchcraft, or makutu ceremonies, the wairua of the person operated upon is seen and recognised.

"The hau" is the vital spark or living principle in man. It seems to represent the vital processes which make man a living entity. The wairua can leave the body as we have seen, but without the hau man cannot live. If the wairua does not return of course dies but the border-land between wairua and hau, where they are essential to life, is difficult to define. As Best points out, the wairua seems to be an active element, in that it travels, can foregather with other spirits, inform man of impending danger and thus defend his physical basis. The hau on the other hand is a passive element, and is acted upon by man's enemies, Thus in makutu it is the hau that is destroyed and causes man to die. In order to accomplish this, something that belongs to or has been touched by, the person to be destroyed must be obtained by the priest. This visible material object is termed "ohonga" and is the "ahua" of visible semblance of the invisible hau. It may be associated with the word page 13"hau" meaning wind which carries the idea of breath and so the visible movements and manifestations of life have come to be regarded as an intangible something necessary to life and summed up in the word hau. The "hau ora" rite is performed over young children to avert sickness and disaster in after life, or according to modern ideas, that their vitality may be strong and healthy to enable them to resist disease. Of course in the case of the Maori the latter part meant the propitiation of the gods of disease. It is interesting to note that fish and fowl had their hau and also the land, forests, and seas. These were necessary to ensure life, fertility, and abundance. The forest whose hau was destroyed produced no fowl, the sea no fish, and the soil no food. The material representation of the hau in these cases was the "Mauri" represented by particular stones &c. These were carefully concealed. Mauri was also applied to man in a way which I cannot quite follow as it seems to overlap hau. Amongst the Ngatimaniapoto tribe there is an ancient ceremony known as "whakapiki mauri" which prevented death or disaster if successfully accomplished. Of "manawa", "ngakau" &c., we will say little here except that "manawa", meaning the breath or heart, was looked upon as the seat of knowledge, power, and physical and mental strength, whilst "ngakau", meaning bowels, viscera, was looked upon as the seat of affection, of mental pain and of thought.