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Medicine Amongst the Maoris, in Ancient and Modern Times

Retarding Influences

page 102

Retarding Influences.

The greatest factor which retards the progress of the Maori in health matters, is the influence of the past. Though every tribe is under the influence, more or less, of Christianity, though tapu and makutu do not loom so large upon the horizon and though there are Native Schools throughout the land, the Maori has not altogether divorced his mind from the terrors of the past. The parents and grandparents of the present generation, are influenced by the teaching and current opinions held in the days of their youth. They were taught that certain diseases which afflicted the Maori had a purely Maori etiology. Though Rewharewha, Karawaka and many diseases were introduced by the European, there are others again which afflict the Maori only. The mana and tapu of the ancients has not been altogether obliterated by the invading White man. The European bible and the God of the missionaries though accepted, have not been entirely successful, as yet, in ousting the Maori 'atuas.' Though the ritual and ceremonies of propitiation have vanished, the fear of the gods of disease still lurks at the back of the Maori mind. Though the great nature gods and the powerful gods of battle are forgotten, the caeco-demons which afflict man with disease are still remembered. The reason is not far to seek. War and the old sacred observances which were governed by the higher gods are of no use in the present social system but disease is ever present. As Tozer remarks in his 'Highlands of Turkey', "It Is rather the minor deities and those associated with man's ordinary life that have escaped the brunt of the storm and still exist in the dim twilight of popular belief". Though many Maoris who have received a smattering of education, will laugh with Europeans at their old beliefs, when sickness comes, when the vitality is lowered and the mind depressed, old beliefs and teachings heard in childhood's days from the lips of the aged, loom up in the sick man's fancy and exert a potent influence. It is the seniors and the old men and women who minister to the patient. Let the disease be chronic or the page 103 first bottle of European medicine fall to give marked improvement, then the sages shake their heads and say, "If this were a European disease it would be amenable to the European medicine. But the medicine has no effect, therefore it must be a Maori disease". The patient hears and the suggestion takes effect. He becomes worse. The European medical man is abandoned and a tohunga is sought. If the illness is of a minor nature and the tohunga does not bring on pneumonia by dipping the patient in the stream and keeping him shivering on the bank whilst he exorcises the atuas, the patient will recover aided by the peace of mind which comes with the knowledge that he is on the right line of treatment. The counter-suggestion takes effect. Then the mana of the tohunga spreads throughout the land with the result that the percentage of cases diagnosed as "mate Maori" (Maori disease) is increased. The European doctor will be called in less. Where the patient is suffering from typhoid or something serious he will likely die but the astute tohunga can always assign something done or undone by the patient or attendants as an excuse for the failure of his infallible line of treatment. Where a tohunga commences work in a district, revival of belief in magic and witchcraft takes place. Old men have told me on hearing of the projected visit of a tohunga, to keep him away. Although they believed that the diseases now afflicting the Maori were ordinary diseases, the remedies for which must be sought from the doctors, yet if the tohunga were allowed to come, the temptation to consult him would be irresistable. Therefore they wished the temptation kept away. They could not trust themselves.