Volume 14 1905 > Volume 14, No.1, March 1905 > Maori medical lore, by Elsdon Best, p 1-23
The Journal of the Polynesian Society.
VOL. XIV., 1905.
MAORI MEDICAL LORE.
NOTES ON SICKNESS AND DISEASE AMONG THE MAORI PEOPLE OF NEW ZEALAND, AND THEIR TREATMENT OF THE SICK; TOGETHER WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF VARIOUS BELIEFS, SUPERSTITIONS AND RITES PERTAINING TO SICKNESS, AND THE TREATMENT THEREOF, AS COLLECTED FROM THE TUHOE TRIBE.
The Ngau Paepae Rite.
THE singular performance known by the above name is one of the most extraordinary customs of a strange people—extraordinary even for a Maori. It consists of causing a sick person to bite (ngau) the beam of a latrine, with which native villages were provided in former times. By sick person is meant any one suffering from hara (transgression of laws of tapu) or of witchcraft, i.e., any person afflicted by the gods; and the vast majority of ills, pains, and diseases were so caused, according to Maori ideas. The one idea which seems to pervade this ancient rite seems to be that the paepae hamuti, or latrine, which is very tapu and possesses great mana (power, prestige) holds the power of being able to prevent or avert the effect of the anger of the gods and the shafts of magic, which latter, although directed by man are really carried out by the gods.- 2
It is not the intention to here give all matter connected with this subject, which would lead into many byways in which, I believe, are traces of an ancient system of phallic worship, or of a recognition of and belief in the male and female forces—the active and the passive—as applied to the universe. My notes on these matters are getting somewhat numerous; we will reserve them for a future paper, giving here some explanation of how such beliefs influenced the treatment of the sick.
These rites performed at the latrine are described as a whiti i te mate (averting the evil of death or sickness), or as a parepare, which means the same thing, or as a ripa, which signifies to deprive the gods of power, to put bounds to their power for evil. But the general term for the rite is ngau paepae. An old man said to me, “The paepae is the tangata matua, it is the hau ora of man. It is the destroyer of man; it is the saviour of man.” Should a person be going on a journey he will first be conducted to the latrine and caused to bite the beam thereof. That will avert the magic arts of those he is going amongst. Persons going through this rite always stand in front of the bar, for that is life. The other side, the rear of the bar, is death, and is termed kouka. It is the Po,1 it is the rua iti, it is the realm of Hine-nui-te-Po. When performing rites of magic at the paepae whereby to slay man the performer stands at the front of the bar, for that is the world of life. Should the wairua (spirit) of his enemy cross to the kouka, it will assuredly be destroyed.
But that sick person has yet to be cured. In the evening, when the sun has set, the priest conducts his patient to the paepae. They place themselves before the bar, the priest saying, “E ngau to waha ki te paepae,” i.e., commanding the person to bite the bar, which he does. The priest repeats:—
It is said that the demon who has been afflicting the person would sometimes be seen to leave his body and fly off into space, and in the gathering shades of night a shower of bright objects would be seen flying off, these being the offspring of the expelled demon.
When a person had been guilty of trespassing on a sacred place, such as already explained, the ngau paepae rite will take the tapu off him and save him from the effects of his act, i.e., save him from being afflicted by the gods. Here is the sort of karakia used on such occasions:—
In time of war any interference with tapu objects, persons, or places has the effect of causing the person to be afflicted by Tu-mata-rehurehu, i.e., he will become nervous, apprehensive, listless, and also lose his power of second sight; hence he will be of no use in the fray. These afflictions may, however, be cured by the above rite, or by the hirihiri.
Anyone suffering from the numerous ills caused by witchcraft might be cured by the process or charm known as kai ure. Or it may be utilised in order to ward off the shafts of magic, which you believe some person to be directing against you. In repeating this spell or charm the reciter must clasp his membram virile in his left hand. The following is a specimen of the incantation used—possibly not complete.
Ka rere te ringa maui ki te hopu it te tawhito, ka titoiria, ka karakia atu:—
Another kai ure spell is that beginning:—
These incantations have already been given in full in a former paper on “Maori Magic.”2
Another “warding-off” spell commences:—
The rite or invocation known by the above name was for the purpose of causing the breath of life to be retained by a dying person, and it is said that it was used to restore to life those who had died. Information regarding the actions of the priest are lacking, but below are given specimens of the invocations repeated:—
He karakia whakanoho i te manawa o te tupapaku: A charm to cause the breath of life to be retained by the sick.
“Ko to Manawa
Ko taku manawa
Ka turuturua, ka poupoua
Ki tawhito o te rangi—e
Ko wai te atua e patu nei?
Ko moana nui, ko moana roa
Ko moana te takiritia
Ki te whai ao
Ki te ao marama
Ka uru te ora, ka uru ki roto
Ka uru te mate, ka uru ki waho
Uru, toro hei.”
The following example is a good one. A reference to the whare e aitua, heretofore mentioned, may be observed therein.
Kai hea te pu o te mate?
Kai runga, kai raro
Kai te hikahika nui no Hine-nui-te-Po
- 5 Wetekina i runga, wetekina i raro
Wetekina i te ate
Wetekina i te manawa
No hea te atua?
No runga, no raro te atua
He tipua koe, he tawhito au
Wetea mai te whiwhi
Wetea mai te hara
Wetea kia matara, kia mawheto
Tawhito te rangi te taea
Tiu hara nui, hara roa
Kati te riri
Kati te patu e te atua
Ka pikitia e koe te tuahu nei
Ka kakea e koe te ihi tapu
Kia kite koe i te hua mokimoki
Tu te rupe, tu te kawa
Ko te kawa i numinumia ai
Ki te pa tuatahi, ki te pa tuarua
Ka haramai, ka whakakiki ahu mai
Ahu mai ki te ao marama
Mo te ao ano koe
Kai hea to ara e piki ai koe?
Kai te rangi tuatahi, kai te rangi tuarua
Kai te rangi tuatoru, kai te rangi tuawha
Kai te rangi tuarima, kai te rangi tuaono
Kai te rangi tuawhitu
Tukua atu tama kia puta ki te ao
He ohorere te tokomauri
Tihe mauri ora ki te ao marama.”
The following is said to be a charm or invocation to ward off all evils from the people. The last lines are those of a charm to heal wounds.
“Tua mai te whiwhia- 6
Tua mai te rawea—oi!
Hao ki uta
Hao ki te rangi nui e tu nei—oi!
Haere ki waenga tapu
Tapu ihi, tapu rangi
Toro i rangi
Tonoa mai te pu
Tonoa mai te more
More ki tua, more ki waho ra
Hukia mai te ihi
Hukia mai te hata papatea
Korihi te manu
Korihi te po, te ata haea
Huna mai te ruruku
Kohera mai te ruruku
Uru ki tua, uru ki waho
Kei te awhenga, kei a tutaka rewa
Mahu akuanei, mahu apopo,
Mahu a takiritanga o te uaua (? ata)
A charm known as titikura was used by the priests of old to restore persons to health.
When you have been compelled by the exigency of war to strike down a relative, and you do not desire that he shall die, you expectorate into your hand and then rub the spittle on the prostrate body of your relative, repeating as you do so—
For in war time you are under tapu, and hence your saliva is also tapu and possesses power, both healing and destructive. A warrior spits on his weapon when repeating a charm to make its thrust or blow effective. A tree-feller spits into the kerf or scarp in order that his arms may not become weary.
“Mau ka hoki mai
Hoki mai ki te ao nei.”
(Return to this world—i.e., to life.)
Speaking of the Aboona, or Archbishop of Abyssinia, Winwood Reade, in his “Martyrdom of Man,” says—“This ecclesiastic is regarded with much reverence. … by way of a blessing he spits upon his congregation, who believe that the episcopal virtue resides in the saliva.”
We have seen that, when a person's illness has been caused by magic, the priest can identify the individual who performed the magic rite, either at the water side or at the paepae. But if the person be dead when the priest arrives, then he will find out who caused his death when the body is buried, either when the grave is being prepared or when the body is being placed in it, or sometimes afterwards.
Affections of the throat were thought to be caused by the eating of sacred food, such as that prepared for the tapu persons who were engaged in burying the dead, or in exhuming the bones thereof.
A choking person was relieved by means of such charms as the following, the sufferer being slapped on the back at the time of repetition:—
Charms for the relief of choking and those to cure burns and wounds all come under the generic term of whai.
The Maori can stand a good deal in the way of wounds. He recovers from severe wounds very often in a most surprising manner, as I myself have seen. Tales are told of the warriors of old and how they often fought on, though severely wounded: How Pa-i-te-rangi fought Tapoto, of Te Kareke, until eight spear wounds brought him down; how Te Ika-poto, of Tuhoe, received six spear wounds in the desperate affair at Papakai, and then managed to escape from the victors of that Homeric combat; how Kai-namu, of Te Arawa, received six wounds from musket balls at Te Ariki, and lived.3
I have heard natives state that half-castes sometimes die from the effects of slight wounds.
In regard to wounds, there were formerly two methods of treating such. One was the time-honoured mode of the neolithic Maori—viz., by rite and charm. The other was by the use of certain simples, which we will describe in the latter part of this paper.
If a person cut himself, say with a stone adze while working, he would first apply the implement with which he cut himself to the wound, and then repeat a charm such as the following, in order to stop the flow of blood and cause the wound to heal:—
Here is another whai charm for healing wounds:—
And yet another:—
In the case of a broken limb, a piece of manuka bark was placed lengthways on the limb so as to cover the fracture, and then wrapped round the limb and tied, and there left until the bone set. The process, however, was expedited by the repeating of a charm known as a hono.
The following is a very ancient method of treating a person who has been wounded, or has a bone fractured, or has been bruised by a fall, etc. The priest would proceed to takahi the sufferer—i.e., he would, as the person lay on the ground, place his left foot on his body, and repeat the invocation, termed haruru:—
The priest then repeats the following charm, termed a hono. (Were it a burn he would repeat the whai wera.)
The priest places his left foot on the patient's body because that foot is tapu. The manea of his left foot will give power, efficacy, etc., to the rite. Manea is a term applied to the hau of the human foot and footstep. It is the sacred vital principle, prestige, power, of that member. The manea is the caretaker and salvation of man; its influence is very great.
The following is a charm repeated in order to cure a burn. It is termed a whai wera, and is said to have originated with Tawhaki, a remote ancestor who possessed strange powers.
“Te whai, te whai
Te turitaku, te poko taringa
Te ruahine matua.
I wera koe ki hea?
I wera ki Tarahanga a ue Tawhaki
Hoki taku tama
Ka tokia to kiri ki te wai ti
Ki te wai ta4
Ka ka te motumotu
Ka ka te ngarahu
He wera iti te wera
He wera rahi te wera
He wera kaupapa
Mahu akuanei, mahu apopo
Mahu a tikiritanga o te ata.”
Splints for fractured bones were sometimes made of the thick leaf base of phormium tenax.
We now come to the second part of our paper—viz., the treatment of disease, wounds, etc., by various simple remedies. This part will not cover much space, inasmuch as the Maori of old relied principally upon his priest when attacked by sickness, and the priests did not deal in simples, herbal remedies, etc., but believed firmly that their cryptic karakia and strange rites were the sole means of saving the patient's life. Ridiculous as these beliefs were, it will yet be seen that we are not yet out of the wood ourselves, and holy relics, wells, etc., are still believed in by the superstitious. Our praying for rain and fasting are also survivals of barbarism which die hard.- 10
In regard to the following account of the various simple remedies used by the natives, I am by no means prepared to state that all such here given were used in olden times — i.e., before the arrival of Europeans. In fact, I believe most of them to be modern, being based on the European methods of treatment of the sick. The use of simples was not encouraged in the days of old, for that would have lessened the power of the priests, who relied principally upon their absurd rites and incantations. For no Hippocrates had appeared to separate medicine(!) from theology, and shamanism was rampant.
Several native remedies obtain for this complaint. One consists of the lower part of the young undeveloped leaves of the toetoe plant. These are simply chewed. The young leaves of the kokomuka, a veronica, are also used in a similar manner, as also are the roots of the flax (phormium tenax)
The bark of the manuka tree is also used for diarrhœa and dysentery. Pieces of the bark are boiled until the water is dark coloured, and this decoction is drunk. Here, again, superstition steps in. The aged lady who gave me this note states that just twelve pieces of bark must be used—neither more nor less—and they must all be cut of an even length and size. If this be not done, then the medicine will not be effective. The bark of the white manuka only is used, the branches of which are drooping and the leaves fragrant, and which is said by the natives to be the male tree (rakau toa)
A diet of fern root causes severe constipation, in which a stick was often used to assist evacuation.
The above term is applied to diseases which eat into the flesh, and certain forms of venereal disease would come under this head. It is applied to patito (ringworm) and hura. The latter is a very disfiguring complaint, of which I do not know the European name, and seems generally to attack the neck and side of the head, which gets into a dreadful state. When cured it leaves the skin much marked, drawn and seamed. This complaint is also termed hore. It is said to have been common here before the arrival of Europeans.
The patito is here given as the name of an eruption on the head. It frequently attacks children. I have also heard that it is applied to ringworm. The following is the the local method of treating these complaints:—Some wood ashes are placed in a small vessel, and over them is poured a liquid made by boiling or steeping pieces of the bark of kowhai and manuka trees in water. This delightful mixture is - 11 stirred and allowed to dry, when it sets hard. When used, the skin is scored with a sharp instrument, and some of the block of ashes is scraped off and rubbed into the scored lines. This ash mixture is termed pureke.
This scoring of the skin is very common among the natives. It is done for headache and almost any pains affecting the body. The skin is scored with a needle, and then either pain-killer or vinegar is rubbed in, as a rule.
The above treatment of hura is probably modern, as the mate pokapoka are thought to be caused by Ruamano, one of the gods, or rather demons, of the Tuhoean Pantheon, and divers other atua, or demons. Tarakumukumu is another demon of this class, and is the cause of the disease to which the same name is applied. It is a mate poka (ulcer) which appears on the thighs. Bathing with hot water is the modern remedy. The papaka is another atua, or disease of the mate poka class. It will heal up and then break out in another place. Deaths occur from it. It does not seem to have any special treatment. It is said to have originated with the Whatu-i-apiti people of Hawke's Bay.
The above complaint is, I believe, what we term piles. One method of treating it is frequent bathing in a sulphur spring. The method employed in this district is for the person to sit over a small, smouldering fire of chips of totara wood. I am told that tokatoka is the same complaint as the pre-European paipai, or allied to it. Eating of taro causes, it is said, an intense itching of the anus with some natives.
This complaint is said to be peculiar to the Taupo district, but I give here the few notes I have obtained concerning it. It was unknown in Tuhoeland. The disease termed tuwhenua, mentioned in native tradition as having formerly afflicted the Ngati-Whatua tribe, may have been something similar. Ngerengere is a species of elephantiasis.
A singular belief exists among the old natives, that the ngerengere disease is caused by the fish of the sea5 and by the land birds. The aged Pio, of Ngati-Awa, said to me:—“Another atua (god, demon, affliction) of the Maori people is the ngerengere. No one recovers from that disease. The persons who destroy the Maori people by that - 12 complaint are the fish of the ocean and the birds of the land. I say that the ngerengere is a plebeian complaint, unlike the whewhe (boils) and hakihaki (cutaneous diseases), which are aristocratic complaints. If a person appears to be recovering from the ngerengere, that means that the cause of the disease has fled to the ocean, but ere long they will return and again assail the person. Then he will die. This disease was first introduced by the Ngati-Whatua tribe. It appeared at Taupo a long time ago, and the first person afflicted by it there was cast into a cave called Oremu.”
It is said that certain persons had the power of causing others to be afflicted by the ngerengere—i.e., by means of a magic rite termed wero ngerengere. As the disease progressed, the person's extremities dropped off joint by joint. Some assert that Te Whetu, of Taupo, still possesses this power.
Now, in an article on leprosy, contributed by M. Dastre, to a French magazine, the writer states that several experts have maintained that the use of decayed fish and thirst-giving salted meats as food is one of the most efficacious causes of leprosy.
The two songs here given were composed by Te Rohu, of Taupo, when he was attacked by the ngerengere:—
Te Anga-a-mai—or, perhaps, Te Anga, is said to be the name of the ancestor, who was the ariki of the ngerengere disease.
By Te Rohu. He tangi nana, mona e ngaua ana e te ngerengere.
“Tera te ata iti hohoro mai koia
Matatu noa ana ko au nei anake
Kai te mura tonu o te pu a Rewi e ka ana
E pa! I heria mai i tua
Kia rongo atu au i te papa koura
Hai taoro iho mo te kino
I taku tinana ka tuaketia
Ko tahau repera pai tonu tenei e te tangata
- 13 Ko te tika i to pono
Horahia mai ra, kia ui atu au
Ko wai to ingoa? Ko te ana i Oremu
Ko tau rakau kai te mata ngira tonu
Te ngotonga ki roto ra
Aue! Te mamae ra!”
Goitre is common in this high lying district, but those afflicted by it are mostly women. No attempt seems to be made to cure it. The term tenga is a singular one (here pronounced tena). It is applied to the Adam's apple of the throat, and also to a bird's crop. Only three cases of men being affected by goitre have I noted among this tribe, but many women have it, some of them being quite young girls.
This appears to have been a fairly common complaint in former times. When ripe they are squeezed, so as to force the core (whatu) out, and in former times human milk was then applied. A sort of decoction made from the leaves of the kawakawa shrub (piper excelsum) is now used; it is drunk as a blood purifier. It is probably a modern item. Another decoction, made from the rauriki plant, is also used to cure carbuncles and that sort of thing. Captain Mair relates a singular rite of yore connected with boils.6
Tapoa is a name applied to an abscess, as also is maiao and makimaki.
Maki is applied to a scab.
Huahua is applied to pimples or a rash on the skin.
Hoipu, a blister containing water.
Murupo. This term is applied to a sort of rash which breaks out on the lips. It itches very much. Many small pimples (huahua) appear, and the lips feel hot and appear red. Then blisters (hoipu) appear.
The sap of a plant called parani, a wild daisy, is used to cure an ulcerated (maoa) mouth. Fronds of the kiwikiwi fern are chewed for sore mouth or tongue.
The term mate pukupuku is applied to any complaint in which the skin becomes rough or pimply (ka papa hueke katoa te kiri or papa uku). It includes kawakawa or low fever, and other complaints, such as measles.- 14
Hakihaki, a severe form of itch, a skin disease, is common in this district, which is not to be wondered at when one notices the native diet, mode of living, and aversion to soap and water. It is known as harehare among some tribes. This distressing malady was formerly treated by the use of a sort of lotion applied to the affected parts. The outer bark of the manono (coprosma grandifolia) was scraped off that tree, and the inner bark obtained. This was squeezed in order to express the sap, which was applied as above, the affected parts being first rubbed with oil or fat in order to soften the same and expose the diseased parts. The sap of the horopito (drimys axillaris) shrub was also used to cure skin diseases.
The paipai, another pre-European cutaneous disease, obtained here. It was cured by means of the smoke of a fire of totara wood, elsewhere described. The name has also been applied to gonorrhœa, introduced by Europeans. Remedies for the latter are the sap of the horopito, tobacco leaves, and the bark of the toromiro tree (podocarpus ferruginea).
Kotureture.—A venereal disease. It affects both sexes, and causes the skin of body and limbs to turn a hideous white, in large blotches. Copper filings from a penny are used to cure the kotureture. The natives pretend to believe that this disease is caused by eating the liver of the shark. Another method of treating this and other venereal diseases, as also piles, is to make a hole or short tunnel in an earth bank, with a small shaft for on outlet. A small smoky fire of chips or shavings of totara is made in this tunnel, the smoke escaping by the shaft, over which the person sits, covered with a sheet or old cloak, to prevent the smoke from escaping too rapidly.
Pakewakewa.—If a woman uses her own or another woman's clothing for a pillow, she will be affected by the complaint known as pakewakewa. The skin of her face and neck will become rough (whekewheke), possibly pimply, or covered with eruptions. The pakewakewa, it is said, is followed by the kiri hoko or blotched skin, repulsive white patches appearing thereon (see under kotureture). Possibly the pakewakewa may be some form of venereal disease. Oil is rubbed on affected parts. It seems to me that syphilis is not nearly so prevalent among the natives as it was twenty or thirty years ago.
Patuheni is said to be another name for the paipai Maori or original paipai (see ante).
Mimi taeturi is applied to painful and difficult urination. The parts are bathed with water in which leaves of the hutiwai plant have been boiled.- 15
In cases of venereal disease a moss known as angiangi is steeped in water and placed on the affected parts. Paea (? fire) seems to be a term for gonorrhœa. It is accompanied by retention of urine. In these cases a plant known as maawe is boiled, and the water applied to parts.
The affections of the eyes which trouble the natives are probably caused by their mode of living—the smoky state of their huts in winter time.
Tōrīwai.—This term is applied to a weakness of the eyes, in which state they are always watering. For anything of this nature the sap of the aka kura, a creeper, is used. A piece of the creeper is cut into short lengths, one end of which is placed in the mouth, and by blowing the sap is forced out at the other end. This is collected and applied to eyes.
Toretore.—This is an inflammation probably. It is a redness of the corners of the eye. It does not affect the whole eye. The sap of the kopukupuku plant is applied to the eyes.
Kiritona.—This is what we term a sty on the eyelid. When maoa, or ripe, it is squeezed to express the core (whatu or nganga.), and human milk is then applied to the place. Another method of curing(!) a kiritona on the eye is simply to point the finger at is. Yet another is to hold, with both hands, a piece of fern stalk close to the affected eye, so as just to touch the kiritona. The stick is then bent until it snaps, while in that position. This process is repeated. My informant added—“That will cure the kiritona for a time, but it appears again.”
Paehena is a term applied to the discharge from sore eyes, or to the effect of it upon the skin adjacent. “Ka paehena katoa i waho o nga kanohi i te pirau.” It sounds suspiciously like our word “poison.”
Paua is a term applied to a light coloured spot, mark, or growth on the pupil of the eye.
Eye complaints were sometimes said to be caused by atua kahu (see ante).
Toothache (Niho tunga).
Some singular cures for toothache are used by the natives, and the old people state that toothache has become much more common since the natives have become Europeanised—i.e., since the advent of the white man. One method of treating toothache is to place one end of a small stick against the tooth and then to strike the other end a smart tap with another stick. A Spartan-like remedy this. Another cure is for the person to hold some of his urine in his mouth for a time. This is done early in the morning. This is said to kill the ngarara (insect, grub, or reptile) which causes the pain, according to native belief. - 16 In olden times charms were repeated in order to cure toothache, as also others to cause children's teeth to grow. A modern cure is to place in the tooth a piece of the chestnut (maki) of a horse's leg, but the patient must not see the article, or no cure will be effected. He must get some one else to procure it and place it in his mouth. Another way to cure toothache is to apply to the toothe a piece of the tough, leather-like cocoon of a kind of caterpillar which is found attached to branches of the manuka shrub. The sap of a plant known as kopukupuku and mārūrū is also used. The leaves are clenched between the teeth of the suffering person, who is then told to sleep, and when he awakens the pain will have disappeared. But, as in the former case, the sufferer must not see the leaves, or they will lose their virtue. A piece of the bark of the ngaio tree (myoporum lætum) is also used as a cure for toothache, and I think that I have heard, on the West Coast, of pukatea bark being used for the same purpose.
In cases of difficult menstruation a decoction made from flax root and a creeper called aka taramoa is used. Another medicine used for the same is made from the bark and berries of the rohutu tree.
A decoction made by boiling in water pieces of bark of the rātā tree (metrosideros robusta) is said to be an old time lotion for wounds. Another lotion for a like purpose is made from the barks of the rimu (dacrydium cupressinum) and tawa (nesodaphne tawa) trees, the bark of the former being cut into pieces and that of the latter scraped, and the whole then boiled or steeped in water, together with some leaves of the tutu shrub (coriaria ruscifolia).
In preparing such things in former times either stone boiling (huahua) or steeping in water was practised.
Another such lotion is made from a plant called namunamu (geranium molle). Mr. Cheeseman informs me that this plant is probably an introduced one, but that opinions differ on the subject. The namunamu and piripiri, and sometimes other herbs, are boiled or steeped in hot water, and the water is used to apply to open wounds, or rubbed on as an embrocation for contusions. It is said to be an antiseptic. The leaves are also applied as a poultice.
An infusion of the barks of the kowhai and manuka trees is drunk for internal pains and applied outwardly for pains in the back or side.
Children apply the sap of dock leaves (paewhenua) to abrasions. If I can trust my memory through long years, we used to rub dock leaves on the hand when stung by a bee.- 17
When women have been tramping the rocky beds of these mountain streams engaged in netting the somnolent kokopu, they find their feet (the women's, I mean) sore from treading on rough and sharp stones. To ease this feeling they heat leaves or plants at a fire and apply them as a sort of dry poultice, the process being known as tāpĭ.
Wounds are sometimes cauterised, a piece of half dry pirita (supplejack, a creeper, rhipogonum scandens), being burned at one end held close to the wound.
In the case of a cut, or any slight wound, a native will often urinate on the same, believing that it will prevent swelling or inflammation. This is a very old method.
A sort of embrocation, applied outwardly for divers aches and pains, is made by steeping pieces of rātā bark in cold water until the latter is discoloured. It is, however, necessary that the person who procures the bark does so early in the morning, and no member of the household may eat or smoke until he returns, or the medicine will lose its virtue.
In cases where a swelling appears in the groin, as from a wound in foot, etc., two cooking stones are obtained from the nearest steam oven. One of these stones is held on the swelling while it is struck with the other stone. This will cure the swelling—at least so say the Maori.
To restore a person apparently drowned, the process known as whakapua is employed. The person is held so that the smoke of a fire will enter his nostrils, which will bring him to (ka ketu ake te manawa).
Pimples, termed huahua, are simply squeezed when ripe.
Kopito is a term applied to pains in the stomach.
Hawaniwani is a skin disease which affects children. It is said to be cured by applications of the sap of the veronica and hangehange shrubs.
Natives are affected by two kinds of worms, termed ngaio and iro. Some assert that both are modern complaints. The ngaio is so named because it resembles a worm of that name found sometimes in the kokopu fish and in the kaka bird. Both these worms are collected when passed, and cast into a fire. Should they burn with a slight report or explosion, that is a sign that the worms will soon leave the person. Should they not so explode, then the person will not get rid of them.
The bark of the manono tree, a coprosma, is crushed and applied to cuts and bruises.
The water which exudes freely from a broken young shoot of the supplejack (rhipogonum scandens) is applied to wounds.- 18
A sort of steam bath was occasionally used by the Maori, in some cases by women suffering from soreness after parturition. When, having given birth to a child, milk does not flow from the mother's breasts, they are bathed with warm water to cause the milk to flow and prevent the affection of those parts termed u taetae, in which the breasts get very bad. In cases of retention of the placenta, a modern custom is to make a decoction by boiling leaves of kopakopa (plantago major), clover, and puwha pororua, in which some salt is put. This is drunk by the sufferer, and everything will then come away.
The disease termed hura, before mentioned, commences its ravages on the neck, and extends upwards to the ears and downwards to the shoulders or armpits. Then, in some cases, death ensues.
The placing of sick persons in cold water, immersion in streams, was, and is, a common habit, and seems to be done quite regardless of what the person's complaint may be. When the siege of the Matai pa, at Waihora (Turanga), was lifted, the rescuers found the garrison in the most dreadful state from starvation, etc. So they collected the numerous sick and immersed them in the stream hard by—to cure them.
The expression ahi mate (extinct fire) is applied to places where all the people are ill of some epidemic sickness and so cannot keep fires alight. It is the “cold hearthstone” of Celtic peoples.
We have already noted the disastrous effects of various epidemics which, at different times, decimated the Maori tribes. Captain Mair mentions one such which carried off great numbers of the aborigines of the Chatham Isles in 1839, and adds that in the same year a great plague of influenza committed great ravages among the New Zealand Maori.7
Some remarkably interesting, though brief, notes on disease among the Maori people, by Dr. Newman, will be found at p. 433 of Vol. XII., Trans. N.Z. Inst.
The poisonous substances in this district are the wharangi, tutu, waoriki, and puapua-a-Autahi. The latter is a kind of toadstool, and, if eaten without being properly cooked, affected the eater severely. He would be unable to walk properly, but would stagger about (ka ruriruri te tangata nana i kai). This article was formerly wrapped in layers of rangiora leaves and baked in hot ashes. In modern times it has been boiled. These modes of cooking render it harmless.
To cure a person poisoned by tutu berries, the old method was to place him bodily in the water, but in late times salt and water has come into use, presumably as an emetic. The poisonous properties of - 19 the tutu berries are termed huarua, and are said to be contained in the seeds. The sufferers were usually children, and, when affected, their bodies would be immersed in a stream. They would sometimes recover.
The waoriki, a swamp plant, is poisonous to animals, and the honey of the blossoms is also poisonous, and sometimes causes death. It appears to bloom in the fall of the year. Tatu, of Tuhoe, died of eating some waoriki honey. A companion took a dose of painkiller and recovered.
The leaves and honey of the wharangi shrub are poisonous. Horses poisoned by it are sometimes cured by being bled, or running them about until they sweat profusely.
The bite of the katipo spider is treated by the whakapua process already described—i.e., by holding the person in the smoke of a fire. Some state that the sufferer was first placed in a stream.
The placing of sick persons in cold water appears to have been always a habit of the Maori, and doubtless has caused many deaths.
The wound inflicted by a sting-ray was, I have heard, treated in some way with the para of that fish, though what that particular para may be, I know not.
Insanity was formerly believed to have been caused by the gods, and such persons were often credited with possessing powers of second sight. It is also believed that persons were sometimes rendered insane by magic arts, as a punishment for theft. Insane persons often wander aimlessly about, repeating meaningless words or sentences. Others are said to become insane through being possessed of a kikokiko—i.e., the spirit of a dead person. An insane person is here termed a keka.
Delirium in sickness is termed kutukutu ahi and kuawa. It is said to be the aimless talking of the wairua or spirit of the sick person, and is viewed as a fatal sign.
A tradition of this district is that it was Irakewa, father of Toroa, of Mātātua, who introduced disease into this island. Irakewa and Wairakewa were probably the same person. He seems to have visited this country in some mysterious manner just before the coming of the Mātātua canoe. Before the arrival of these voyagers it is said that disease was unknown here—a dubious statement.
Suicide was by no means a rare cause of death among the natives in former times. The women seem to have been more given to suicide than the men. They sometimes committed suicide on the death of a husband, or on being deserted by a husband, or when made the subject of ridicule. A woman of the Arawa tribe committed suicide by jumping into a boiling spring, because her husband had favoured another woman.- 20
We will now proceed to note a few customs, expressions, etc. applying to sickness, as collected in this district:—
When a native is taken ill away from his own home, it has ever been a common thing to carry him back to his own place, there to recover or die, as the case may be. The most probable reason for this is the desire that he shall die and be buried on his own lands. I have known sick persons and bodies of the dead to be so carried on litters (amo) for forty miles over this very rough country, and seen dying children carried on men's backs when every movement must have been agony to them. I have, moreover, encountered bitter hostility when endeavouring to dissuade the people from moving children in such a state.
When Te Puehu was taken ill at Oputao, it was resolved that he should be carried to his own place lower down the valley. When the bearers arrived at the descent to the Rua-tahuna stream they stopped to rest, putting the litter on the ground while they did so. Afterwards a post was carved a la Maori and set up at that spot, and a small shed built over it. When the shed decayed another was built. On the post were suspended articles obtained from European traders, such as pieces of bright coloured cloth, handkerchiefs, etc. Another such post was set up at Te Whakatakanga o Te Piki, where the bearers also rested. The latter post was destroyed by the Native Contingent during Whitmore's raid on Tuhoeland in 1869, but the other one still stands. This custom no longer obtains.
The reason of thus marking the above places so was that they were tapu; an important chief had lain there when at death's door. The post set up is termed a tuapa. It will be fully explained in a future paper on “Death and Burial.”
Tapohe is a term applied to the polluting of persons, etc., by placing tapu objects in common places. The placing of the food, or remains of food, of a tapu person in a common place—i.e., a place not tapu, would be a tapohe. If it happens to be the maanga (remains of a meal) of a sick person, the invalid will have a relapse, and the person who committed the dread act of tapohe will also be taken ill. If a sacred oven is tapoheria, it spells death for the offender, unless he takes time by the forlock and hies him to the priest, or a mātāmua, who may shrive him of his sin.
Whakahehe.—This is what we would term a change of air. When a person is ill, and the priest or wise man sees that the cause of his illness is located where he is residing, he tells him to go away to another place, and there live for a year or two. The trouble will not assail him there. This refers to illness caused by atua or malevolent spirits, witchcraft, etc., and ills of that nature.- 21
Some years ago a woman of this district was betrothed to a man of the Ngati-Awa tribe at Te Teko. An aunt took her to that place, but the young woman found she had no liking for the man, and hence returned home. Some time afterwards a party of Ngati-Awa came to Rua-tahuna on a visit, and contrived to obtain a fragment of the clothing of the woman. This they took home with them to serve as a ohonga, or material medium through which to bewitch the woman and her relatives. The victims of the magic arts were saved by a tohunga, or wise man, who was the medium of the god Taimana. He sent them all to Waikare-moana, where they lived for two years at the Mātūāhu pa, leaving there just before Lieutenant Witty's expeditionary force found that place deserted.
I am exercised over the word rătă, which appears to have been been applied to European doctors in the early days. Williams appears to consider it a pakeha word. But what is it? Rătă is, I believe, a genuine Maori word, and signifiies the power of second sight—at least, according to the Tuhoe people. “Mehemea ka moe iho ahau, ka haere toku wairua, ka kite i tetahi aitua mo taku tamaiti, mo toku papa ranei—he rătă tena.” (If, as I sleep, my spirit wanders forth and notes some impending misfortune for my child, or my father—that is a rătă.) Williams has rapa Maori—a familiar spirit—and under rata (as a Maori word) gives its common Polynesian meaning of “tame, quiet, friendly.” Tregear gives the latter meaning only, but in the Polynesian comparatives gives: Mangarevan — aka rata, to pretend inspiration, to assume to be the mouthpiece of a deity, a prophet, a sorcerer, a man possessed of an evil spirit. Observe also an article by Mr. Tregear, on the word rata or lata, in Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. XXIX., p. 83. Now, in the above Maori sentence, written as spoken to me by an old native, rata appears to=matakite or something similar. I am convinced that there is a kind of sacerdotal meaning of this word which we have not yet obtained.
A woman of this district, near to death, was taken to the hospital of the white man, and her life saved by an operation. When she returned home, her friends, who had never expected to see her again, came to greet her. An old man said—“Tena ra koe! E whakamaui ake nei.” She had, as it were, risen from the dead, like unto Maui of old. Hence the singular expression.
When a person feels listless and weak (iwingohe) in summer-time, it is said to be caused by Rehua (a star), or rather by his summer wife, Whakaonge-kai.
Ever among the Maori have the sick been much neglected. A sick person was, and is, never allowed to remain in a house, but is taken away outside the village. In former times a rough shed would - 22 sometimes be built, but afforded little protection to the sufferer. In these times a tent is often used. Some person remains in attendance on the sick person, but the attendance is of the poorest kind.
This custom of making sick persons lie out of doors on the ground probably sprang from the racial ideas of tapu. If a person died in a house, that house would become tapu and be no longer habitable, but allowed to fall to pieces and decay.
Sick persons are not wanted in the social system of the Maori—a fact which may be noted among many barbarous peoples. No attempt is made to provide the sick persons with comforts of any kind. Any such given by Europeans for the use of the sick are probably eaten by their friends. I have often prepared food for sick persons here, but find it necessary to take the food myself and watch the invalid eat it; otherwise he or she would see but little of it.
It is but seldom that one can detect any sign of affection for, or loving care of, a sick person among these natives, except sometimes in the case of children. But, when death comes, then the most extravagant demonstrations of affection and sorrow are made, accompanied by much eating of the foods provided on such occasions.
The above completes the notes on sickness and the treatment thereof, as collected from the Tuhoe tribe. It is, of course, very incomplete, but will serve to give some idea of how the old-time Maori viewed and treated sickness, together with his opinion as to its cause.
I have said that many of the simple remedies, prepared from barks, leaves, and roots, herein mentioned, have most probably been devised since the advent of Europeans. Here is an extreme case: When Tuhoe collected at Rua-tahuna in order to march northwards to fight the pakeha in the Waikato district, their tohunga prepared a decoction from various barks, plants, etc., which he put into bottles and gave to the fighting men, telling them to drink of it in the hour of battle, and no harm could then come to them, no bullet touch them. That medicine did not act up to expectations.
We have therefore seen that most of the ills which afflicted the Maori were looked upon as mate atua, caused by the gods, and were only to be cured by arts of sorcery, necromancy, and superstitious rites of divers kinds. His mind had not risen above this plane; it was clouded by superstitious beliefs in magic, in demonology, in the malignant powers of the dead. Yet the Maori shows to better advantage in other channels of thought. Superstition, that heavy drag on advancing civilisation and the evolution of the human race, has truly been as a millstone about the neck of the Maori.
1 i.e., Hades, the realm of darkness.
2 See “Nga Moteatea,” p. 305, for an interesting kai ure.
3 See St. John's “Pakeha Rambles through Maori Lands,” p. 29, for some good instances of Maori fortitude.
4 Whai ti and whai ta in another version.
5 This belief seems to support a theory lately enunciated in the London Times, to the effect that leprosy results from the eating of stale fish.—Ed.
6 See Ahi tapoa, Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. 35, p. 30.
7 See Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. III., p. 312.
8 Scurf, said to be caused by poor diet, or to accompanying poor condition. Pigeons are affected by it when feeding on leaves and in thin and poor condition.