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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times

Change of Mode Of Living

Change of Mode Of Living.

We have seen how, to meet the ancient style of fighting, the villages were fortified citadels situated on high ground. The introduction of firearms by Europeans made these no longer impregnable. As various tribes became possessed of these civilised instruments for killing, they immediately attacked others not so fortunate. In the raids that followed thousands were killed not only from the direct effects of the guns but in the panics which followed the seeing of lightning and hearing of thunder fighting on behalf of the gun-bearers. Tribes throughout the length and breadth of both islands were seized with a fever to obtain guns. They were absolutely necessary to tribal existence. They could only be obtained by bartering with potatoes, pigs and the fibre of the N.Z. flax (phormium tenax). Flax grows usually in swamps page 84and damp low-lying ground. The villages on the hill-tops were vacated that they might be nearer to the flax where men, women and children, worked feverishly, scraping the blades of flax with shells to obtain the fibre to exchange for guns. These new village sites were also nearer to the food cultivations. Houses were built on the edge of swamps and on damp ground that they might be nearer the eel-weirs and cultivations. The carrying up of provisions and water was obviated but the regular excercise disappeared also. The simple system of sanitation possible on high ground now became impossible. There were no cliffs or precipitous banks at the back of the village upon which privies could be built. The privy disappeared. Indiscriminate defaecation became common and surface wells and streams were easily contaminated. The soil became contaminated with organic refuse and typhoid and diarrhoea became endemic in many villages. The dry soil of the uplands with the compulsory defensive trenches which acted efficiently in draining off any subsoil water due to rains were now absent. Consumption which had been kept in check by the mode of life and the nature of the village sites, was now promoted and encouraged by the new mode of life due to the advent of civilisation.

Change of Clothing had a bad effect. It must be remembered that in accepting innovations in various departments, the Maori never obtained the full benefit of the complete system for genertions. It was during the transition stage, which with many tribes is still present, that the Maori derived evil instead of benefit from European customs and institutions. Instead of his own warm, if scanty, clothing to which his body had become accustomed, he clad himself in thin cottons in the winter and warm woollens in the summer. Damp clothing was allowed to dry on the body and they were never removed at night. The Europeans bartered clothing but never imparted with those article the knowledge of their proper use and how to avoid abuse.

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Pulmonary troubles became common. The resistance to cold became lessened and a weakened constitution became part of the dowry of civilisation to the Maori.

Change of Food brought in its train of change. The soft foods of the white man, so different from the hard roots and berries of neolithic days, instituted dental decay. Indigestion and gastric affections became more common. Women took to feeding infants with mixtures of cornflour or ordinary flour instead of giving them their own breast milk. In many cases it was simply ignorance. Everything the white man brought was immeasurably superior to anything they possessed themselves. Condensed milk and cow's milk, before impossible to obtain, began to be used more and more as infants food so that up to the present time the European feeding bottle has slain more than the guns of Hongi. In this however they but followed the example set them.

Alcohol, one of the chief articles of European barter, became fashionable. We must give the Maoris credit for having invented no stimulent, not even the kava of Polynesia. Marion du Fresne, the French navigator and others, recount that, unlike other races, the Maoris on being first offered alcohol expredssed great repugnance and could not be induced to drink it. ItHe expressed his view of it by calling it "wai piro" stinking water. Owing to the example and teaching of sailors and traders, he eventually became fond of it. Its effect upon the race, directly and indirectly, has been an evil one. It has taken its toll of Maori dead and played its part in producing the deterioration of the race.