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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times

Fear of Mate Maori

Fear of Mate Maori.

The fear of the past finds expression in the term "mate Maori" (Maori disease). It is the retention of the old idea that disease gods punish infringement of tapu by attacking the transgressor. In these cases the Maoris say it is useless to consult a European doctor. Medicine will not drive the demon forth. The hara or sin must be diagnosed, page 104and the demon exorcised are the patient can recover. There are many things which help to keep the Maori version of disease before the people.

As we have said before, chronic cases which have defied European treatment for some time, come to be regarded as Mate Maori. The Maori is impatient when dealing with disease. He expects a speedy recovery or immediate signs of improvement. He believes that when the tohungas were treating disease the signs of recovery were seen immediately during or immediately after the consultation. He expects this celerity to continue in the case of the European tohunga. If he is disappointed, as he often is, he says the patient is suffering from Mate Maori.

Where there is a tubercular taint in a family, he is apt to accuse Mate Maori as the cause. Where the symptoms of a demon are well recognised as in tubercular bone disease he has no hesitation in affirming that it is a mate Maori such as "toketoke".

Where there is delirium and the patient raves about crayfish or lizards attacking him, the diagnosis is again made according to ancient teaching. If a relative dreams of particular animals which are known to be the 'aria' of tribal gods, the fear of 'mate Maori' again takes root. I have seen many such cases.

I saw a case of hysteria where the woman foamed at the mouth and made violent on muscular movements whenever I approached. She called for her father. This was looked upon as a typical case of mate Maori. It was the demon in possession who caused the struggles when the doctor approached. The woman called upon her father as he could expel the tribal demon.

Chronic cases, fatal cases, heriditary ailments and most of those which cannot be explained to him, the Maori regards as 'Mate Maori' or diseases peculiar to himself alone.

The idea of 'atua kahukahu' forming from abortions still prevails. A Maori woman at a European hospital had an abortion. She was greatly alarmed lest it should not be properly buried and so become a malignant caeco-demon. Many of the atua kahukahu page 105of more modern times have as an aria, the pig, horse, sheep or ox of recent importation.

Coincidences in time are looked upon as cause and effect. The following case serves to illustrate this.

Case. An old man of Lake Rotoiti, a chief and an intelligent lay reader of the Native Anglican Church, complained of a pain in the right hip joint. He rejected all ideas of rheumatism and on being encouraged to give his version of the cause, he spoke somewhat as follows, 'A man who belonged partly to this tribe the Arawa, and partly to the Waikato tribe, had been living among the latter for years. Then he came with an old man of the Waikatos, to ask the Arawas to support the Waikatos in a particular political movement. They came to this village first. In the evening, the young man made clear their object and asked our support. I replied, 'My son you ask me to support the Waikatos. I think of the times gone by when the Arawas supported the Waikatos. What was the end? The Arawas left the bones of their dead bleaching on the plains of battle, through helping the Waikatos. You come to-day and ask us to again assist you. I think of the unburied bones of our dead bleaching on the plain. This is the first village and I am the first chief to whom you have spoken, but it is enough. Return to your home. The Arawas have not forgotten their dead who fell on the stricken field through espousing the cause of the Waikatos. Return to your home my son, return. "When I finished my speech which was the knell of their project, the old man from Waikato hung his head upon his breast. He never rose to reply to me but I saw his lips moving. That night I went to sleep well and strong. I had not strained myself or caught cold in any way but in the night the pain came into my right hip. That in itself would not be enough. But I had a dream. I dreamed I had in my hands a parrot snare with a long line. I was quite well before and had done nothing to get ill. But the old man from Waikato bent his head upon his breast and I saw his lips moving. That night the pain page 106came into my right hip. Then I had the dream which tells of witchcraft. This pain is a mate Maori."

I have given this case in full as it is typical of the line of reasoning usually followed. The Waikato tribes at the present day are credited with having retained the art of witchcraft. An old man of that tribe spends an evening with another tribe. His desires have been opposed and his opposer knows that his feelings will be inimical on that account. His action in not replying according to custom confirms that opinion. Then his lips are seen moving in whispered incantation. In the night the person who opposed him, has a pain in the hip. In addition to this the diagnostic dream of witchcraft is dreamt. It matters not that the dreamer's thoughts as he fell asleep were charged with thoughts of witchcraft with all its symptoms and associated ideas. From the Maori point of view, the sequence of proof is irresistable.

Thus the suspicion and fear of 'makutu' run together. When medical students can persuade themselves that they are suffering from the disease that at the moment they happen to be studying, can it be wondered at that the Maori should still persuade himself that he is suffering from 'mate Maori' or 'makutu', when the inherited fear is kept alive by popular opinion.

The fear of 'makutu' is still prevalent. Disputes in law over land are supposed to be a fruitful cause in these days. When one of a successful party in a landcourt suit dies, it is often attributed to makutu used by the losing side in the law case. My predecessor in Parliament died at the beginning of the year from phthisis but it is believed by his own tribe that he was bewitched by one of the losing claimants to a large tract of land.

In many cases the fear has become vague and ill-defined but it is no less real, There is no tribe like the Ngai-tahu of the South Island which has lost to such an extent its ancient customs and institutions through closer contact with the Europeans. Yet I have never met with such an absolute fear of makutu as exists amongst many of the Ngai-tahu when they visit the North Island where it is still supposed to be used.

page 107

Another great retarding influence is the prejudice that exists against European doctors and hospitals. Amongst the majority, not so conversant with the English language, there is the barrier of speech. Then the Maori patient is garrulous and wishes to describe all his symptoms in detail and at length. The busy European practitioner cuts short the description and the Maori patient becomes offended at what he considers lack of Interest in his case. He does not return. In many cases, the ailment is a minor one and the doctor who 'pooh-poohs' the patient's idea that he is ill, loses his confidence. The Maori objects to being told that he is not ill when he knows that his condition in not normal. He immediately looks upon the doctor as an ignorant person, informs his wide circle of friends and seeks a tohunga who is more sympathetic. A subsequent visit with a mere glance at the patient which probably tells the doctor all he wants to know as to progress, is considered neglect by the patient and his friends and they will probably change or discontinue the treatment. If the doctor is well-advised he will take a few minutes time in showing that he is interested and prescribe something even if it is a placebo. The doctor who gives no medicine, even where it is not necessary, is looked upon by the Maoris as useless.

Another great objection of the Maori to the white doctor, is his fear that the knife will be used. Ha dislikes operations even more than the average European. This dislike extends to hospitals. The patient is always suspecting something of an operative nature or objects to the hospital diet and is thus always anxious to get out. Many have run away from hospitals. The relatives do not know what is going on behind the hospital walls and readily imagine that their loved one is being dissected to satisfy the curiosity of the inquisitive white man. They page 108are thus ever ready to demand the return of the patient ere cured. Some hospitals seem to be banned by the Fates. The Whanganui Hospital in a large Maori district lost five or six operation cases on Maoris. Certainly the cases were very serious, the Maori not consenting to enter until as a last hope. Every case died and the hospital was promptly 'tapu' to the Maoris. If a Maori in that district is asked to enter the hospital, he looks upon the request as his death sentence and composes his death song. In Taranaki, Dr. Pomare saw two cases of typhoid. He ordered both to the hospital but only one went. The hospital patient died and the other recovered. Coincidences such as these convey a great significance to the Maori mind and make them the more difficult to treat.

The difficulty of carrying out treatment in the homes is often very great. The expectation of a quick recovery or signs of alleviation often leads to the abandonment of medicines ere it has had time to have an effect upon the disease. Isolation is difficult owing to the custom of relatives and friends of crowding into the room round the patient. In the more backward settlements, a bed on the earthen floor in an unventilated room shared by many others, is the only one available. The non-removal of clothing and change of bedding are detrimental factors.

Feeding is another problem. Many of the homes are not able to procure the kinds of food necessary for sick persons. Patients can only get the food common in the village. Typhoid patients are given solid foods when they ask for it.