Volume 63 1954 > Volume 63, No. 2 > Tohungaism and Makutu, by G. Blake Palmer, p 147-164
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TOHUNGAISM AND MAKUTU Some Beliefs and Practices of the Present Day Maori

(A paper presented at the Anthropology Section of the Royal Society of New Zealand Seventh Science Congress, Christchurch, May, 1951)

THERE is much interest and discussion at the present time concerning “Adjustment Cults”. Attention has been drawn by many writers, and not a few field workers, to various manifestations of a revived sense of unity and racial awareness in native peoples under the impact of Western cultures. During the past few years these concepts have even been extended to include a wider range of analgous cult reactions within some of the older or isolated units of Western culture in the face of progressive industrialisation.

Observations and studies have also brought to attention similar manifestations in many past eras for which there is ample recorded material; as for example for the last centuries of the Western Roman Empire. The writer dealing with the events of a bygone era has a great advantage over his colleague discussing contemporary events. The older material can be handled with a greater freedom and there is little likelihood of rousing more than academic storms, or some transitory qualms over the susceptibilities of institutions deriving remotely from the age in question.

I am unfortunately not in the more favoured position of a student of a bygone era, though I can bring to bear on present day problems some knowledge of such events and some familiarity with the course that such movements have followed in the past. A major problem in dealing with contemporary events, in which many of the actors or their immediate descendants may still be alive, is the necessity to preserve some measure of anonymity in citation. This detracts both from the freedom and flow of the narrative, and from the facility with which interpretations can be made.

I propose to deal with certain aspects of Maori belief and practices which at the present day are not only surviving - 148 but show signs of a revival, as the full impact of a new way of life strikes a Maori race which no longer feels itself to be in that danger of extinction which seemed so certain to observers of both races less than 60 years ago. The Maori today, uncertain whither his destiny, may turn for security and solace to some of his past traditions and ways. Unhappily the better ways are not always followed nor are the present day interpreters and “skilled men” always well grounded in their ancient lore.

Perhaps a few observations on the character and qualities of the old time tohunga would not be out of place. The old time tohunga was, as the word indeed suggests, a “skilled man”. The term tohunga often being qualified by the particular skill to which he laid claim. He was in essence a specialist well versed in the learning of his people and the skills of a particular craft or maybe some aspect of Maori lore or healing. His learning was homogeneous deriving solely from Polynesian sources. He was as a rule a skilled observer of nature and the ways of fish and birds. His training was long and arduous and he was required to produce evidence of skill, indeed a test such as that mentioned in Mark xiii:12. As a tohunga he was entitled to and received respect, and if he were by reputation or inclination a tohunga makutu then fear and dread reinforced the respect accorded to him. In addition if he were of Chiefly rank then his mana was highly dangerous. Indeed like Te Atuawera's cloak any personal objects of the tohunga themselves held this dangerous mana and might serve—in the absence of the possessor—to halt a war party on the march.

At the present time, even in some Maori circles, the term “tohunga” tends to be restricted to practitioners of Maori healing, who as often as not combine with the good of attempted healing less reputable and more frankly evil practices to which references will be made later. As far as may readily be judged many practices described under the term “tohungaism” comprise a medley of rather debased and often imperfectly understood fragments of the old time Maori medicine, with accretions of some of the teachings of the Old Testament on to which have been grafted ideas deriving from Luke ix:1, 2 and similar texts. Some of the less comprehensible faith healing movements of the 19th Century have - 149 added to the mixture, and I have come across some interesting reinforcements from the New Zealand Formulary.

Some practices are perhaps, at their best, on a level with the type of “medicine” described so carefully in the Journals of John Wesley. Much naive faith and an unpalatable panacea, fasting, dietary, or physical shock; the Wesleys were the forerunners of present day popularity of ambulatory shock treatment. There seems however to be less scruple and little understanding of the healer's responsibilities among many practitioners of tohungaism. Frequent disregard of such matters as “transmission of infection” may compel the intervention of Health authorities when they are so fortunate as to get reliable or first-hand information of the “treatment” of open tuberculosis or typhoid fever (without any attempt at isolation of the sufferer) before the Coroner's inquest.

I propose therefore to confine the term “tohungaism” to the variable systems of healing, or professions of ability to heal, by methods derived in part from debased and imperfectly understood Maori lore and in part from fragments of Christian Old Testament and other religious teaching to which for good measure is added from time to time some invention or inspiration of the individual practitioner. Such inventions or additions may include pretentions to certain occult powers. These pretentions to occult powers are almost invariably derivations of Polynesian beliefs. They are couched in terms or employ methods of a type which are to be found in easily accessible recorded observations of those who first studied the Maori tohunga in missionary times. Some may well have been revived from the written record. Many others represent a continuing tradition.

Tohungaism of today is seemingly eclectic and essentially debased. When firmly established in a district it often hinders the more suggestible Maori from taking advantage of the freely available services of the New Zealand hospital system. To some extent it serves to perpetuate vague fears and hostilities to present day European medicine in much the same way that certain ill-informed groups in the European community prefer to foster old prejudices, fears and hostility towards modern methods when practiced in State institutions for the treatment of the mentally ill.

Perhaps it may be well to extend this lengthy intro- - 150 duction by citing a few instances of the commoner “medical” practices of the present day tohunga. These methods are not in any way similar to the methods of a competent European psychiatrist, despite the assertion to the contrary by a Maori Welfare Officer in the course of a Court hearing.

Prominent among the more favoured methods are immersion of the sick at dawn and sundown in the wai tapu which may vary from the usual running stream to a more stagnant cattle pond. Children supposedly possessed of a Maori devil—and the reputed symptoms attributed to this complaint vary from extreme restlesseness to the faulty or absent speech of the congenital mental retardate—are not infrequently chastised or locked up, apparently on the same principle that led Xerxes to order the lashing of the Hellespont after the destruction of his bridge of boats by a storm. Obviously such practices in effect may amount to (or even result in Court charges of) maltreatment or neglect. So may the comparative indifference with which many Maoris still treat the sick, especially those whose illness is accompanied by signs of mental disorder. The Maori is not neglectful of malice, he is merely avoiding possible contamination by forces which he believes responsible for the sick person's affliction. It is dangerous to meddle in such matters. Experience proves this to the Maori's satisfaction—was not the sickness catching, or did not some misfortune later befall? Such attitudes of course are not unknown in the pakeha community especially among the lesser known sects.

Some tohunga methods of treatment are frankly dangerous, especially that custom of incising the gums of tooth-less or teething infants with a sharp unsterilised pipi shell. Death has occurred from such practices. All will agree such acts should not be tolerated even by the most liberal apologists for the growing pains of a Polynesian community under the impact of Western industrialism.

Herbal remedies are numerous and are in themselves usually innocuous. However, they may delay the application of more efficacious European methods, and may thus lead to the spread of preventable contagion. In this glass-house however the European community cannot afford to cast stones for “herbal healers” flourish. Again commercial broadcasting stations draw attention to nostrums which some - 151 Maoris may use even with a sense of superior virtue at having thus risen above the old-time ways of their family. Indeed one man proudly boasted as evidence of his enlightenment, that he had treated his child with a proprietary cough mixture (containing a high percentage of alcohol) whereas his wife had recourse to daily dippings in the wai tapu. Neither treatment was of the slightest value to the congenital disorder from which the child suffered unless the cleansing value of the wai tapu tipped the scale in favour of the older ways.

An exception to this might be made in the case of a few zealous and painstaking searchers after breach of tapu (and other sins). In the course of several days “anamnesis” a valuable mental catharsis not infrequently ensues. Such practitioners are—in my experience—rare, especially in the Northern area from which the majority of my examples are drawn.

Many systems of medical treatment have an origin or close association with religious or folk beliefs. Some sound practices may arise on the basis of a quite untenable theory. For example the Melanesian method of massage for constipation is good. Yet no one has proved, except perhaps as a figurative allusion to the intestines, the existence of the octopus whose expulsion is the rationale of the treatment. Similarly, in a few constitutionally favoured beings, the teachings and practices of that confirmed believer in witchcraft, Mrs. Eddy, may bring about subjective relief when prejudice, conviction or inept attempts at re-education have led to failure by other methods.

When I first became interested in the extent to which the present day Maori still had recourse to old beliefs, which had come to be regarded by many as part of his past heritage, I was interested in the phenomena for their own sake. Being then recently arrived in New Zealand I sought to draw comparisons—erroneously—with some of the fast-dying customs in the remoter parts of rural England (and it should not be forgotten that many isolated rural communities retaining much of the older way of life may be found within a little over a hundred miles from the outskirts of greater London. One does not have to go to the mountains of Wales, the Highlands of Scotland or the bogs of Ireland to find such communities.).

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My attention was next drawn to Maori medical lore and then to the various practices relating to belief in makutu, which being a tapu subject is seldom openly discussed as between Maori and European, especially if the European happens to be a school-master, a policeman or an office holder of some religious organisation.

Discussion of the tapu (and fear inspiring) subject of makutu is by no means free between Maoris themselves. The occasion and the listener must be appropriate as is the case with most Europeans for whom the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Mass of St. Secaire would scarcely be acceptable topics of conversation at a formal dinner party or afternoon At Home. Amongst most Maoris tohungaism and makutu would scarcely be mentioned in the presence of any person of consequence known to hold, by virtue of office or rank, the slightest scruples in such matters. As the late Bishop Bennett aptly remarked in a letter in 1946, “in the Maori circles in which I move there is little mention of such matters”. Yet scarcely 100 years ago strangers passing on the route to Waiapu would, for safety's sake, walk in the wash of the tide, so great was the reputation of those parts for fostering the skilled tohunga makutu.

For several years prior to the outbreak of World War II, I had noted quite a number of Maoris from the more remote areas of Northland who were admitted to hospital with symptoms and behaviour which clearly indicated that they themselves firmly believed that their illness was directly attributable to certain “forces of evil” or “curse.” The origin of this they suspected or averred to be deliberately brought about by the machinations of enemies or not infrequently those whom they had in some way wronged or intended to wrong. I recall very clearly one man who was admitted to hospital after an attempted suicide. He noticed that the further he travelled from his district the better he felt. Just before reaching Auckland he began to experience a return of his symptoms. After many enquiries he was found to be a man of several “wives”, deserted, in being, and hoped for. The woman whom he had just deserted had perchance a brother who had the reputation of some skill and power as a tohunga. Moreover he used such power to harm his adversaries. Now the legal wife resided in the Bay of Plenty - 153 almost as far to the east of Auckland as the sick man had travelled from the north, whilst the “hoped for” woman was for the time being a “Ngati Akarana”. On passing the midway point he began to experience a recurrence of feelings of influence, coming now from the direction where the legal wife resided. Such situations may be readily understood in terms of guilt and may not shed very much light on Maori beliefs in an evocable avenging mana. Yet it does suggest that this particular Maori had an idea (not altogether shared by his forbears) that distance diminished the force of a well-directed makutu or evil and man-destructive mana.

During the war opportunities occurred for some observation of certain Moslem and a few Christian beliefs which closely resemble the Maori's concept of mana.

I had by then noted many more examples of present day Maori belief in the capacity of “chosen” individuals to direct or liberate forces with evil intent towards a selected victim. These examples suggested a continuing Maori tendency to attribute bodily mishaps to breach of tapu and other mana liberating transgressions. The older concepts of tapu still exert considerable influence where the greater dead are concerned—they also play a part in lesser ways.

Some Maori school children still frighten their more timid fellows by exhibition of some fragment allegedly taken from some tapu burial place much as the horrid little pakeha boy may utilise a spider. But even the boldest Maori boy will carefully avoid certain localities at night when the kehua are abroad. Fear of the night and kehua remain a potent source of minor dread. The fear of dying and dead remains a deterrent to some young girls whose parents may dissuade them from entering hospital for nursing training, for are not kehua most active at night and must not every trainee take her turn at night duty? I have known some competent and experienced Maori nurses to forego their off-duty break during night duty when this has entailed a walk in the dark from a detached building. So potent are these beliefs that in time of attenuated staffing the fears of kehua have led indirectly to closure of a ward in a Northland country hospital.

Over the past few years I have travelled extensively in the remoter areas of Northland and have encountered many examples of the present-day belief in the power of the - 154 “tohunga” and of the existence of secret societies stemming from such beliefs. Increasing familiarity with the hallmarks of such activity has permitted the “location” of many centres in which practices are prevalent. During the past two or three years I have on occasions surprised some persons, who supposed themselves in danger from such areas, by giving sufficient indications of the identity of the reputed tohunga—and thus in some instances have observed a sudden weakening of the reserve with which many Maoris still treat these topics when in conversation with a European.

As a rule the reputed tohunga, especially the tohunga whose reputation is not entirely one of good intention, works alone. Whilst still in good health, when age approaches he (or she) may so far observe the old rites as to transmit some part of their mana to a worthy associate when time and prudence dictate. There is a belief in some places, or rather among some persons, that fractions or aspects of a tohunga's skill can be passed on. A tohunga, says one informer, is able to choose to pass on either the evil or good intentions and skill of his craft. I cannot vouch for the extent of such beliefs but have heard them expressed on several occasions. They are, it would seem, a late development, related perhaps to some teachings of the Roman Church.

In some districts there exists a more or less closely integrated and secret society which often advances its prestige by laying claim to or utilising the traditions and mana of some outstanding deceased tohunga: for example that of Te Atuawara, better known as Papahurihia. In the districts around Omanaia, Waima, Whirinaki Waimamaku, Oue and well to the eastwards in the country of “Blackout” his mana is still strong, for does he not still ride at night round these parts and as far afield as Te Iringa and Tautoro? But the activities of “Blackout” are not for this paper; suffice it that such existed in 1951 and that the followers still gather in darkness around a barrel to mingle the older traditions with newer ways.

Certain Maori settlements derive their reputation from that of the reputed tohunga who may practice there, some having a name for good and others for evil, the latter being the more feared and respected. Mention of these places to the informed may sometimes produce a sudden and surprised ejaculation. I once casually mentioned the name Karetu. - 155 The response was immediate, “The Abode of the Devil and the damned”. Now this place was situated some seventy miles or more from the dwelling of the person who so responded but shortly before a reputed tohunga, not altogether free of a suspicion of trafficking in makutu, had taken up residence in those parts.

The revival of belief and reversion to certain Maori ways of thought have been most noticeable in connection with quasi-religious ideas, the unseen world, and with certain indigenous medical practices, rather than in manifestations of nationalist or separatist sentiments or the upsurge of Messianic cults such as is noted in New Guinea, the Solomons and elsewhere in the Pacific. The close association between religion and certain practices reputed to promote health is particularly well illustrated in much of the material which has come under my notice. In this the Maori is no different from many groups in the Western Communities of the New World, whence many such movements have originated in recent times.

Before citing some of the case material on which this paper is based, I would again emphasise the extreme reluctance there is (even amongst educated Maoris living essentially as Europeans) to discuss the phenomena loosely referred to under the heading of makutu. Even when they are frankly sceptical, the scepticism is expressed with just sufficient overemphasis to imply the possibility that after all these topics are best eschewed. I can recall the reply of a well-known Maori interpreter who, when asked the direct question: “What would you yourself do if you thought that you had so transgressed as to incur the evils of makutu?” He replied, “At times like this every real Maori deep inside him is just a bit afraid and I would say a little prayer”.

The Maori shows less reluctance to discuss native medical practices, which are nevertheless often applied with a devotion and attention to detail worthy of a sounder discipline. Some families carefully back themselves both ways, supplementing the European methods (or what they believe the European methods to be) with a strong admixture of the older ways.

Unfortunately many of the older methods are fraught with danger both to the sick person and to the community, - 156 for it is not unknown for sufferers from active tuberculosis or diphtheria to be carried around from place to place often over considerable distance and in the most rickety transport. Whilst Government tolerance of the more overtly racial aspects of “adjustment cults” is understandable and may do much to minimise tension, tolerance is less easy or indeed less justifiable where practices threaten the health of the community as a whole, as well as the life of an individual believer.

Some regulations are required from time to time to discourage certain aspects of “tohungaism” the revival of which has already reached an intensity far greater than most Europeans who live in its midst care to believe. It is indeed sometimes easier for a distant observer with some knowledge of the movement to suspect or locate a new tohunga commencing practice in a new district, and on more than one occasion I have informed colleagues of the existence of a hitherto unsuspected tohunga within a few miles of them.

Belief in the power of the tohunga and the attribution of bodily symptoms to the operation of makutu is not confined to the rural Maori or the uninstructed. Many well-educated persons come under its influence, among them some who pride themselves on a pakeha agnosticism. Profession of a Christian belief, especially where this has a ritualistic emphasis such as in Roman Catholicism, or where strong emphasis is placed on conversion as with Salvationists or Methodists, does not as a rule protect the Maori who once allows himself the suspicion that a makutu is operative on him. Perhaps this statement is not quite accurate and it might be better expressed by stating that recourse to the Christian priesthood seldom dissipates the influence of makutu once a belief in its operation has taken hold of an afflicted Maori. The pakeha exorcist has little power, if any, over Maori devils, however successful he may once have been in fifth century Europe, or in the Solomons in recent times.

So much for the preamble: it remains to relate some incidents which illustrate what I regard as typical cases of present day Maori belief and practice of tohungaism and makutu.

Among the instances to be cited is one in which a participant stood trial in the Supreme Court and in consequence the authenticity of the main events can be examined from - 157 the official depositions of evidence. Although reference has already been made to this in the daily press, its more detailed recording (at least in outline) and publication in a learned journal, is desirable. Considerations of a personal nature compel me to obscure some of the place names and conceal identities. Most of the events described have occurred around the Hokianga and the southern part of the Bay of Islands though in some instances persons involved may have been from the Waikato, King Country and Bay of Plenty.

A few years ago I was asked by a school medical officer to see a 16-year old girl at a Maori School. The girl had recently returned to school after having been away “sick” for some weeks and on the evening of her arrival she became extremely agitated, confiding her suspicions of makutu to one or two intimates including her cousin. When I saw the girl the following day she was subdued, lacking in energy, diffident in discussion, disturbed, very frightened and with a rapid pulse. She admitted the possibility of makutu, and clearly had great belief in its powers. She was willing to reveal how she came to know it was operating yet she firmly declined even a hint as to origins of the supposed makutu. She told me that a recently deceased cousin had appeared to her father in a dream and had revealed the name of a former fellow-pupil, who on the grounds of a supposed jealousy, was reputed to have consulted a tohunga, for the purpose of avenging herself by means of makutu. Questioning of a confidante obtained the name of the former pupil; this name when written down and shown to the “victim” produced a crisis of agitation, the girl firmly believing that on the following evening the full force of makutu would be upon her. Her fears were beginning to spread to other pupils and there was a vague uneasiness in the school.

Now it is interesting to note what influence if any may be exercised by a Christian priest (in his capacity as priest) over a person so much under the dread of an evil spell as was this girl. A Roman Catholic priest, experienced both in human nature and in Maori lore, came to see and spent some time with the sick girl. She was less frightened and more calm. When he left however the fears returned even more intensely than before—as is told of Meilerius of Caerleon by Giraldus Cambrensis, “Then all the devils came back thicker - 158 than before.” From subsequent discussion it was clear that such an outcome was not unexpected. Indeed on reflection such a result might be anticipated for had the girl's Christian (and Church) belief been more than a veneer, then fear of makutu would scarcely have gained so firm a hold. Certain beliefs like prejudices are mutually exclusive or mutually supporting. To conclude this narrative the girl left the school at my suggestion early on the following day, her home being more distant from the supposed sources of influence. Soon afterwards she was admitted for observation to a public hospital where, as previously surmised, no significant organic pathology was found. Her courage and confidence returned. It should be noted that some weeks previously a similar disturbance had aroused the suspicions of her physician who had marked her clinical card “makutu”. I learn she is now happily married.

This incident (despite the handicap of preserving anonymity in narrative) clearly shows that even among the most intelligent members of the Maori race there is familiarity and no little measure of belief in the existence of certain powers which in former times caused death, and today much fear and temporary indisposition. Recourse to the employment of traffickers in powers by a schoolgirl against her adolescent rival is both significant and pertinent to my enquiry—even the idea that recourse might be had to such methods is worthy of record.

At a more usual level I can quote another instance. The daughter of a reputed tohunga, who specialised, so it is said, in repelling makutu, became the undisputed leader of her school class, obtaining all her wants by the simple process of threatening that her father might deflect makutu from his patients (some of whom came from as far as the King Country) to the child who presumed to defy her wishes. The wishes extended to pilfering from the Head Teacher's residence which finally brought matters to notice.

Another case is one which led to the appearance in the Supreme Court of the father whose six year old child had been for many years the subject of frequent ministrations by a tohunga in the Bay of Islands district of North Auckland. Details of this case follow for it was mentioned in the press and my report was read in Court by the presiding Judge.

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The child concerned was grossly retarded and incapable of speech, although physically active and indeed so restless that she presented the greatest possible difficulty of management at home. Whenever the child was thought to be ill, the mother would, at the instigation of her family, take her to a nearby settlement where many Maori practices were repeatedly applied by a cousin tohunga. Dipping at dawn and sunset in the wai tapu both in winter and summer were the least harmful of these. The mother was persuaded by her cousin that the child harboured a Maori “devil” and in a spirit reminiscent of Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe—or indeed Europe of a much later age—the child was shut up and beaten in order “to drive the devil out.” The distracted father, disbelieving the practice of his wife's relatives, yet susceptible to the blandishment of commercial broadcasting advertisers, sought to protect his child from the ministrations of his wife's relatives. I should perhaps mention that it was not always deemed necessary for the child to be taken to the tohunga. A visit from the mother permitted, so it was believed, a transmission of the “power” which she brought back with her and applied to the child in her home. (It was unfortunately not possible to ascertain in what manner the mana was thought to be passed on, but a piece of material or handkerchief was among the vehicles of transmission.)

The father of the child stated in court that whenever he succeeded in getting medicines from a European doctor or district nurse, only the first dose was given, “the medicine being thrown away by my wife or her relatives as soon as I left the house to go to work”.

Aversion to European methods naturally extends to obstetrics and any ills which subsequently befall are attributed to disregard of Maori childbirth and infant management. These Maori methods of infant care included the highly dangerous prescription of castor oil with each feed, a treatment which this baby only survived by the father's successful efforts to discontinue this particular neo-Polynesian ritual.

Naturally once the child's illness was attributed to possession by a Maori devil the mere presence of the child became the occasion of fear and recriminations unless appropriate “Maori methods” were constantly employed to counteract its activities.

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Despairing of ever weaning the womenfolk from recourse to methods in which he firmly disbelieved, the father, perhaps unwittingly, employed what I regard as a modern example of Whakamamore. He could not bring himself to adopt the traditional extreme remedy of anyone gravely threatened by a tohunga: “shoot the tohunga”. He could at least draw sufficient attention to the tohunga's activities to secure the intervention of other authority. And so it turned out, for going to the house armed with a .303 rifle he fired 6 bullets into the tohunga's residence at a range of 150 yards, at which range he justifiably claimed he could, had he wished, have scored a direct hit on his adversary.

As an outcome of the shooting he was obliged to stand trial. The judge recognised the difficulties of the accused's situation and his parental concern for the afflicted child by admitting him to probation. The resultant publicity did much to lessen the reputation of the tohunga, whose “place” was destroyed by fire a few days later.

Of necessity this account has been much abridged, yet it serves to illustrate the strange assortment of methods and admixture of ideas which underlie much present day “tohungaism”. I have purposely refrained from stressing the incurable nature of the affliction to which it was applied; yet is must not be overlooked that many Europeans similarly placed may have recourse to methods equally at variance with the standards of their group and the dictates of medical prudence.

It now remains to describe a more fully studied example of belief in the power to release an evil mana, namely the much dreaded activities of the “tohunga makutu”. I will state at the outset that the principal actress in this long and complex story was from time to time deemed to be mentally irresponsible. The difference between the healthy in mind and mentally sick is one of degree, not of kind. The mental content of the ill in mind thus has an importance when considered in relation to the current beliefs and understanding. Hallucinations and delusions do not arise out of nothing. Their nature and form is constantly changing and is often surprisingly up to date for we in hospital practice are already familiar with persons who suppose themselves to be controlled by atomic energy, or to be victims of communist spy rings. - 161 The sick person thus expresses a current knowledge and belief in delusional form. Napoleon has ceased to be a subject for identification but his place is occasionally taken by more recent political figures. Even today however, some of the leading figures in Christian theology and hagiology are still the most frequently noted subjects of identification. It is of some value therefore to pay attention to the content and form of ideas expressed by the mentally afflicted, as they form an important guide to underlying beliefs to which some credence is paid, or has been paid prior to illness, by the sufferer, or his social group.

I propose to call the central figure of this final story Tui. When she first came under my notice several years ago she had recently been delivered of a child, I believe her tenth, certainly the last of several of a second family, for she had married under some degree of family persuasion a year or so after the death of her first husband.

I was struck with the unusual nature of a breakdown after childbirth in a person who had had so many children, and from the beginning took especial interest in the “Maori aspect” of the problem. Tui was obviously unhappy and of two minds about facing a further venture, for such seemed likely if she were to go home on recovering from her illness. She showed very great concern over an old injury to her leg and it was noticed that she became very apprehensive when from time to time this became inflamed. It was soon apparent from her behaviour that she was enacting little propitiatory ceremonials designed to avert what she deemed to be an evil influence emanating from the North.

As she began to recover she related a complex story involving many members of her family. In particular a grandmother who was within a year or two of her hundredth birthday and an aunt to whom she believed certain powers had been transmitted by the grandmother lest they be lost with increasing infirmity. Tui believed that her leg disability was the outcome of a “curse” and that she would recover both from her leg and her present affliction if only she could return the evil whence it came. She would not at first name those whom she deemed responsible. Under the influence of narcosis she named two persons and also described with a wealth of detail, how she herself had attempted to influence - 162 matters by engaging in the (pretended) exercise of occult powers, thus seeking to return the “curse” by the evocation or release of an even more powerful makutu. It was however obvious that she had in her own mind failed utterly for was not the leg as bad as ever? Her improvement in health continued and I was reliably informed that a family council was held in a small settlement within the forest zone. There the elder relative declined absolutely “to take back the curse” which Tui deemed responsible for her troubles. She became very downcast for a time but regained her good spirits. I saw Tui from time to time with her children and she wrote occasionally concerning her troubles. Later she seemed settled and willing to take some positive steps to settle her marital stresses.

Some time later she became ill once more and when I saw her next she was constantly performing propitiatory ceremonials, throwing herself about and desperately afraid of facing the setting sun or indeed, standing in front of any open window which faced to the north. From time to time she would throw herself violently to one side or the other as if to avoid the passage of unseen influences.

One day towards sunset she threw herself down suddenly and had the misfortune to aggravate the old injury to her leg, as an outcome of which she became gravely ill. In this state her family removed her from the hospital that she might die among her people. Though she never succeeded in redirecting any forces to the detriment of her supposed enemies, it is equally certain that her belief in the omnipresence of a malignant makutu led to an action that was the direct cause of her own death.

Tui was intelligent and, perhaps in a vain way, proud of her birth and lineage. She firmly believed in the reality of the evil forces which she supposed recoiled upon herself, for she had sought first to direct them against others. On such beliefs depended the power of the old time Maori mana, especially the avenging mana released on breach of tapu. The belief is not extinct today, but, as I have stated earlier, it seldom does more than frighten those who feel themselves its victims.

The examples I have cited illustrate some aspects of present day Maori beliefs and practices of tohungaism and - 163 makutu. Of necessity a full account would demand time and space far beyond what can be given in the course of this paper. Before concluding however, I would draw attention to one other circumstance or situation in which there is recourse to tohungaism. In certain communities recently converted by one or other of the proselytising denominations, be they Christian, Mormon or Ratana, or even by the lesser known and more ephemeral sects, there is a fairly constant pattern which develops in the face of any untoward incident, death or mishap in the neophyte community. Those whose conversion is skin deep turn with apprehension, perhaps even in part belief and pay heed to the older customs, even when these may be expounded by those whom the old time tohunga would scorn as but half-learned and unfitted for membership of the craft. The minority or the part-converted in these circumstances turn thus in secret to tohungaism, “backing themselves both ways,” for quite often they keep up a nominal allegiance to the other faith. Similarly in the face of the many uncertainties in the transition to a new way of life, tohungaism offers some consolation from its deep-rooted connection with the Polynesian ways of thought and feeling. Its influence will last awhile. Pruned of its dangers it could be an influence for good.


I wish to acknowledge the helpful criticisms of those who have read this paper in its earlier manuscript form, especially to Kore Ehau, Maharia Winiata and to my informants and friends in many places. Some unfortunately are no longer here to read it in its published form and of these I would record my appreciation especially to Te Puea Herangi. I also wish to record help from Dr. Gilbert Archey and Professor Piddington in the treatment of the extensive material upon which the paper is based.

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