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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times



The prognosis rested upon making a correct diagnosis of the afflicting demon and the "hara" or transgression which had led to the arousing of his wrath. By this knowledge the demon could be exorcised and the prognosis rendered favourable. In the case of war there was an elaborate method of taking the auguries or omens as to success or defeat, and to a lesser extent, the prognosis of disease was sought along similar lines.

Favourable dreams and omens were recognised, whilst in the prophetic utterances of the seers or "mata kite", the the recovery of the patient was often guaranteed.


A method of augury was obtained by the "tohunga" resorting to some growing flax, and drawing the centre blade or "rite". This was termed "takiri". If the blade came away whole, the omen was good, but if it broke off short, the prognosis was unfavourable. With the Urewera tribe if the blade made a creaking sound as it was drawn from the sheath, the omen was good. Grass or toe-toe could be treated in the same way as flax.

The Niu.

The ceremony of consulting the "niu" is a very ancient one. In the Pacific Islands "niu" is the Polynesian name for the cocoa-nut, and there divination was performed by spinning a cocoa-nut or "niu". Gradually the name of the object became transferred to the ceremony. In New Zealand without cocoa-nuts or similar objects, sticks were used for divining purposes, one representing the disease and another the patient. These sticks were called "niu" There were many methods of proceedure. One was to cast the niu, representing the patient, and if it flew straight and true and landed so as to lie in the direct line of its course, the omen was good. On the other hand if it turned so as to lie across its course, then the patient would die. Another method was to cast the two sticks together, and whichever landed uppermost conquered, that is, if the patient's niu lay above the other, it was life and health for him; if the niu representing the disease demon page 53landed above, then it meant that death would be victorious.

A similar rite was that in which two mounds of earth were made, and a green twig stuck in each. One was termed the "tira era" or wand of life, and the other the "tira mate" or wand of death. After repeating powerful incantations, the falling of either of the green twigs gave the prognosis.