Maori Perspectives

Spiritual Practices and Mental Concepts of the Maori - excerpts from the book by Elsdon Best

The book "Spiritual and Mental Concepts of the Maori" by Elsdon Best was written in 1922, and is a brief run down of the spiritual concepts of the Maori. However one notes that there are many concepts described here that relate to the spiritual welfare or states of a person. Which while we may disagree upon the cause of them shows - that they have always existed, but were treated in different ways amongst early communities.

Many ancient peoples believed in a spirit world - a dimension that interacted with us. Can this just disappear when a majority decide that this is no longer the case? Is this the price of democracy? The price of 'civilisation? The experiences and views of the many override the experiences of the individual as unusual or irrelevant.

If everyone doesn’t experience it then it doesn’t happen? Or there is something wrong with them, their beliefs or faith. Yet wind the clock back 200 years, and they were seen differently.

Here are some excerpts I found interesting from this book.

Pg 7

The conclusions he arrived at (the Maori) at from what he considered clear evidence were - that man possesses a spiritual quality that leaves the body during dreams, and quits it for ever at the death of the physical basis (this is the Wairua)."

... The wairua of the Maori is a sentient spirit, the soul of precise anthropological nonmenclature. It leaves the body at death, but it can also do the same during the life of its physical basis. Thus it leaves the body during its dreaming hours to wander abroad, apparently with the object of detecting any impending danger to the body. It will hasten back to the body to warn it of any approaching danger, and this is why the Maori placed such faith in dreams ...

... Curiously enough, the wairua can be seen by humans eyes, at least by those persons who are matakite (seers, persons possessed of second sight). The Matatua folk have a singular expression - tira maka - to denote a company of wairua seen passing through space ...

We shall see anon that wairua can not only be seen by man, but also slain by him, and that they appear to possess material bodies in the underworld of spirits ...

Pg 10

When collecting native songs many years ago one of my friends forgot the concluding part of one. The next day he came to me and said. "I will now finish the song; my wairua found the balance of it last night." The wairua leaves the body during sleep and wanders abroad; hence we see distant places, and persons in our dreams. I have heard natives say, "I went to the spirit world last night and saw so and so" mentioning some dead person. Te Wai-o Hine, a Tuhoe woman, once said to me "O friend! I went to spirit land last night and saw Kiriwai (an old woman who had recently died). She no longer looked old, but young, as we were long ago. So now I believe that we regain our youth in the spirit world."

Now the next section talks of magic spells.

"In Maori narratives we often hear of the wairua being attacked by magic spells. When about to attack an enemy it was a common custom to recite certain charms in order to affect the wairua of such enemies. These spells were endowed with the power and rendered effective by the mana of the particular atua of whom the wizard was the kauwaka or medium. The effect of such ritual would be to throw the enemy into that peculiar condition called Pawera. This is a mental condition: The ngakau, or mind, becomes apprehensive, fearful of coming evil; a dread of some indefinite, impending danger affects the courage and vigour of the individual. Another term for this condition is pahunu."

Further on it talks of voices on Pg 15

Spirit voices are often heard, says the Maori, and is termed irirangi and irewaru. To hear such is an evil omen; some trouble is at hand...(yet he then talks of hearing a voice that was not a warning). "A day after old Hakopa, of Tuhoe died, I thought that I heard one of my camp natives calling me, and left the tent to see what it was. On explaining my error, the natives told me that the cry I heard was probably the voice of the wairua of Hakopa calling a farewell to me as it passed on its way to the spirit world."

Pg 19, KEHUA

This term denotes the soul of a dead person, apparently carrying an apparitional sense ... Its usage is equal to that of ghost. The term kikokiko may bear an allied meaning, but Williams (MAORI dictionary) gives it as a name for malevolent demons, also known as atua kikokiko. The Matatua folk often use the word whakahaehae to denote spirits of the dead that appear as ghosts, whether seen or merely heard. This term carries the sense of "terrifying" ... Tutakangahau of Tuhoe maintained that kikokiko and kehua are both names for souls of the dead, but it seems to me that these terms are employed only when such spirits are troublesome or apparitional; otherwise the word wairua is employed.

Mate Kikokiko is an expression used to denote bodily ailments believed to be caused by such evil beings; souls of the dead are afflicting such sufferers. Persons so afflicted sometimes become mentally deranged (his words not mine), we are told. When such a sufferer recovered, Tutaka said, he in some cases became the waka or human medium of the spirit that had afflicted him; thus he would become a tohunga kehua, a shamanistic medium."

The book goes on further to say how there were ceremonies at death to stop the wairua coming back and annoying the relatives ...

"The most favourable time for interviewing kehua, we are told, is at dusk and just prior to dawn." They had a whole philosophy about spirits, voices, apparitions and visions. Do these aspects of experiences within a culture all disappear with the advent of Christianity? Or is it just that their occurrence attracts different descriptions and treatments? What do you think?


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