Charlatans may be to blame, says scholar

Last updated 00:00 13/11/2007
DEAN KOZANIC/The Press
Rawiri Taonui, the head of Canterbury University's of Maori and Indigenous Studies.

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A family's fatal attempt to drive out a Maori curse may have been performed by charlatans, an expert in Maori culture says.

Janet Moses, 22, died at a house in Wainuiomata as family members tried to drive out a makutu (curse).

"It seems dubious, over-intense, and like people getting carried away," said the head of Canterbury University's School of Maori and Indigenous Studies, Rawiri Taonui.

Fraudsters posing as tohunga, or healers, were known to operate in the Maori community, he said. "They are certainly out there."

Dr Taonui said that several things did not ring true about the October 12 ceremony that killed Ms Moses. The transgression that caused the makutu to be placed - a family member stealing a taonga (treasure) - demanded only a light remedy. "Genuine remorse to those who had been wronged, a face-to-face meeting with them, and some karakia (prayers) would have been enough."

Water was used to cleanse the cursed person, but in modern times total immersion was usually replaced by just a light sprinkling.

Only serious cleansing ceremonies used immersion, and that had to be performed at a sacred site, for example at a riverbank: "It's not something that's transportable."

Poia Rewi, a senior lecturer at Otago University's School of Maori Studies, , said makutu were aimed at a person's psychological state, but could also affect the body. The use of makutu had declined, "but I'm not saying it's not out there".

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- The Dominion Post

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