Clairvoyance among the Maoris- an article by Percy Smith and James Cowan

Sometimes it is helpful to remember that it was not that long ago that Maori led a completely different way of life than we do today. Relying on different sense and faculties that Western Society often disregard. This article published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, highlights this quite well.

Here are a few excerpts, but the whole article on the website link above is interesting

Volume 29 1920 > Volume 29, No. 115 > Clairvoyance among the Maoris, by S. Percy Smith, p 149-161

It was about 1853, or 1854, that a movement among the Maori people of the Taranaki coast took place, that is worth noting as an illustration of Maori mentality. At that time the people were decreasing in numbers very fast, due to various causes, largely to the contact with Europeans and their diseases, and the entire change in habits and beliefs also due to European contact. While acknowledging these causes as to their decrease as mentioned, the Maoris had, at that time, a theory of their own to account for their lessening numbers, and that was, the abrogation of the system of tapu; and they also saw  in the failure to remove the presence of tapu objects, another true cause of the trouble. The fear of tapued objects and places had much decreased, and things and places were touched and visited with an impunity that in former times would have brought death to the violators of the tapu.

In most, if not all, Maori pas there were sacred stones deposited, which were called mauri, or whatu or other name, and of course these were strictly tapu. Sometimes these stones were the mauri, or, as it has been described, the “life principle,” by which birds of the forest, fish of the sea, etc., were retained in the localities frequented by them, etc. The absence or destruction of these mauri, destroyed the food-giving properties of the forest, sea, etc.

But there was another phase of these sacred stones which, so far as can be ascertained, had another purpose. It was this latter class of stone that seems to have been buried in the various pas, or forts; and the idea seems to have been that the presence of these stones preserved the măna (or power, prestige, etc.) of the people living in the pas, and also formed a connecting link with the ancestors of the tribe and with their ancestral homes in far Hawaiki. The desecration or neglect of these stones, was a serious matter for the people of the pa. We know that in other parts of Polynesia these stones were under the special care of the priesthood, and were occasionally cleaned and oiled. The probability is the same was done in the case of those stones placed in the Maori pas, though I have no positive information on this subject. They were at any rate objects of sanctity and care.

The people of this district round New Plymouth were (with few exceptions) driven helter-skelter from their homes by the several incursions of the Waikato tribes, in the early years of the nineteenth century. Their fortified pas were abandoned; and when the people returned to their homes in the early forties they did not re-occupy these old pas, but built new ones of a different type, or lived in open villages, though the former was the rule. Hence these sacred stones were left in the old pas, and it was this abandonment of them, and neglect of attention to the tapu of them, that gave rise to the belief in the early fifties, that this neglect of the tapu was what caused so many deaths among the people…

We now come to modern dealing with some of these stones, and an illustration of what appears to be an instance of clairvoyance, with which I am convinced the Maoris were acquainted from very early days. That they also practised hypnotism and telepathy seems clear from many examples I have…

The fourth case of clairvoyance I also quote from the “Taranaki Herald,” June 1st, 1920.—“The Levin Chronicle says that the Kuku Maori community has been stirred by the recovery of two valuable whalebone meres buried for many years. The paper relates that they were discovered by the aid of a Native woman, Mrs. Takurangi, wife of the Hon. Te Heuheu Tukino, M.L.C., who claims to possess powers of divination” (or as I call it clairvoyance). “The scene was laid off the main Kuku Road and a few hundred yards to the rear of Mr. Pink’s residence. Leading a procession of about 120 persons, the chief actor took a course for some distance through the bush and then over some maize cultivations, and again entered a bush pathway, which eventually reached a stagnant, weed-covered water course. Here she halted, and placing a stick in the ground at the water’s edge, declared that the lost meres would be found there. A spade was procured, and on digging down a depth of about two feet the meres were unearthed.

“Both were in an excellent state of preservation.

“Mr. Robert Ransfield, of Manakau, one of the oldest Natives of this coast, recounted some particulars concerning the long-lost patus. He stated that the weapons were owned by their ancestors Koroniria and Pare-tiwhana, who buried the meres to prevent their being lost, but prior to their deaths did not inform their descendants of the hiding place. The patus were formerly weapons of war, and being tapu, were greatly treasured. It was believed that the loss of the patus had acted detrimentally to the well being of the later generations of the former chieftan owners, hence the desire to recover them and break the evil spell.”

This again is in a different locality, but not far from the scene of the third case, and the operator is also different. Mr. Elsdon Best who interviewed Te Heuheu and his wife, tells me, “they both  declare the truth of the performance, and that the lady obtained her power (matakite, second-sight) from Mahuta (the so-called Maori king) or he developed it or rendered it effective. She added, the wairua, or spirit of the former owner of such lost or buried articles, guides her and halts over the spot where the article is lying.”


But it will be more satisfactory to quote Te Heuheu’s own account of the proceedings, for which I am indebted to Mr. James Cowan (the historian of the Maori-Pakeha Wars of last century). In interviews with this scion of one of the most aristocratic families of the Maoris, the ariki of the Ngati-Tu-wharetoa tribe of Lake Taupo, whose ancestors were high-chiefs, and possessed of the powers of an ariki, Mr. Cowan took full notes and kindly supplied a copy as follows:—

“Te Heuheu describing the supposed supernatural powers of his wife in the discovery of long buried valuables and in other ways, said, in answer to questions, My wife, who was born at Wharekawa in the gulf of Hauraki district, belongs to the Waikato and Ngati-Maru tribes, and is also connected with the Ngati-Rahiri 2 and Te Ati-Awa tribes of Taranaki. She was kinswoman of Mahuta, the third Maori (so-called) king of Waikato, and it is through Mahuta that she became gifted with her present powers of matakite (second sight). A week before Mahuta died he gave to her a very precious and sacred jadeite pendant, made of the kawakawa variety of that stone, worked in the form of a whakakai, or ear-drop, with a curved end, the ornament known as a kapeu. It is an unusually long ear-drop, about eight inches in length, and it is worn sometimes on a cord about the neck. This whakakai is very ancient, and was worn by Potatau Te Wherowhero, the first Maori (so-called) king, and at his death was similarly worn by Tawhiao and the latter’s son Mahuta, and by contact with these sacred persons of ariki rank it became exceedingly tapu. When Potatau was made king by the Maori tribes more than sixty years ago, not only did political power pass to him from all the tribes of the confederation, but the great chiefs, such as Te Heuheu Iwikau and others, transferred to him, or endowed him with their sacred măna, or the powers and gifts of the tohunga-Maori. 3 All this cumulative măna, rested with Potatau Te Wherowhero, who thenceforth was the most potent of sacred chiefs in the Island. In his ear he wore this holy greenstone, and by virtue of this control he became a store of wonderful măna.

-“When Mahuta, knowing he would shortly die, bestowed this kapeu upon Takurangi, he bade her wear it constantly about her neck and await the tohu, or sign, which would announce to her the sacred powers embodied in the stone. In due course these strange powers manifested themselves in various ways. Ever since Mahuta’s death his spiritual powers have had their abiding-place in Takurangi. See note No. 2.“Not long ago, while we were living at Lyall Bay, Wellington, some persons came to consult Takurangi about the mysterious illness of a child, which (as it appeared afterwards) had been afflicted through eating plums from a tree which grew on a tapu place in the Ohau district.”

Te Heuheu here described the steps taken for driving out the mysterious sickness; the result was the healing of the child. Certain articles into which the tapu had been driven by virtue of Takurangi’s powers, were taken to the beach at Lyall Bay and cast into the sea; one was a copper coin representing the waka 4 into which the baneful tapu had passed. When the waka was thrown into the salt sea, the wise-woman repeated these words:—

Ka tuku atu koutou
Ki nga rire o te moana-nui-a-Kiva,
E te pouriuri, e te potangotango,
Oti atu! oti atu koutou ki reira.
I send you out
To the deeps of the great ocean of Kiva,
To the uttermost gloom, the uttermost darkness,
There to be ended and vanish completely.

 “Then (continued Te Heuheu) when Takurangi’s măna became generally known, she was requested by certain persons to assist them in the recovery of long-lost family and tribal treasures. At the request of Hira Parata (son of the late Wi Parata Kakakura) we went up to Waikanae, where we were desired to find some buried relics whose exact whereabouts were unknown. Many persons were gathered there, and all of these witnessed the search. I accompanied Takurangi. Neither of us ate food on the morning of the search because of the sacredness pertaining to such operations. Takurangi wore the sacred whakakai; the spirit voices of Potatau also had been heard by her in her sleep, speaking into her ear. When we reached the scene of the search, Takurangi led the way into a ploughed field and walked across this until she came to a certain place where she  halted. The forest formerly grew on this field, but it had been cleared. Takurangi stopped at a spot where a portion of an old root of a large mahoe tree lay in the ground horizontally. She bade her companions pull the root away, and when this was done a beautiful jadeite tiki (or neck ornament) and two whakakai (ear-pendants) of the kind of jadeite named kahurangi were found lying underneath covered by a few inches of soil. These were the hidden treasures. They had been concealed long ago at the foot of a mahoe tree, somewhere in the district (this much had apparently been known), but it was very long ago, for since that time the forest had been cleared away and the plough had passed over the ground many times, only avoiding the old stump. The carved tiki was an heirloom known as ‘Whakairi.’

“The next feat of this kind was at a place near the Kuku bush at Ohau, some distance from the find described above, on land belonging to the Ngati-Wehiwehi tribe. Many people, including some Europeans witnessed the treasure-finding here. The search was for certain patu paraoa, or whalebone meres, of antiquity and sacredness, which had been hidden there, and which the people now desired to recover. We went up from Wellington to the place by motor-car; there were several car loads of people.

“As on the previous occasion we did not eat in the morning of the search, and we also observed this ceremony (to propitiate the spirits of the dead): When we reached the place where the search was to be made, Takurangi and I went to a running stream and dipped up some water in our hands, which we threw towards ourselves, lightly sprinkling our faces and heads, and repeating these words as we did so:—

Mau tenei te wai a Potatau
Mau tenei te wai a Tawhiao
Mau tenei te wai a Mahuta
Mau tenei te wai a Te Wherowhero. 5

 “In this short karakia we invoked the spirits of Potatau and the successive members of his family, and we were now in a state of tapu for the purpose of the search. There had been sickness at this place, and Takurangi, by virtue of her sacred powers divined that this was caused by unconscious contact with highly tapu objects or places. There was a small watercourse here coming from a spring, with watercress covering the surface of the stream. To this place Takurangi led the way, and the spectators, at her bidding, disposed themselves about the spring at a little distance, so that all might see clearly what she was doing. With her was an assistant named Matehaere. Takurangi – carried a garden fork for the purpose of turning over the ground wherever the spirits bade her search. There was a piece of a tawa tree lying across the spring. This, Takurangi bade Matehaere remove. He hauled it away with his hands and the fork. Then the wise-woman bade him put his hands into the spring and feel about. He did so, and no sooner had he plunged his hand into the water than he felt something move into his grasp. He felt two objects—they were the veritable treasures sought! It seemed as if they had been waiting to be found! for they seemed to move of their own accord into his open hands. Matehaere was very much frightened at this strange occurrence, and his heart leaped and trembled within his breast; but Takurangi reassured him. He withdrew his hands from the water, and in his grasp were two glistening whalebone meres, or patus, which he held up by the handles. He placed them on the grass by the spring, and immediately there burst out a great shout and chorus of applause from the spectators.

“We then proceeded to remove the tapu from the recovered treasures in this way: Taking the weapons to the waterside we held them out while we recited these words:—

He tono ki a koutou te hunga wairua o te po, kia horoia atu nga mana patu tangata i runga i enei patu.

This is our appeal to you, O company of spirits of the night (death) to cleanse these weapons from all influence that may afflict mankind.

“Then we dashed handfuls of water over the weapons, throwing the water away from us, and repeating these words, a sentence with each handful:—

Mou tenei wai, E Potatau!
Mou tenei wai, E Tawhiao!
Mou tenei wai, E Mahuta!
Mou tenei wai, E Te Wherowhero
For thee is this water, O Potatau!
etc., etc., etc.

 “The effect of this was to destroy, or modify, the tapu which otherwise would have prevented the people from handling these treasures of their ancestors. The death-causing attributes of the weapons were by the water-laving and sprinkling transferred to the running water, which carried the baneful tapu into the ocean where it was dispersed and lost. This is why such ceremonies are performed in running water.

“After these necessary karakia and sprinklings (we use short karakias of our own, the ancient ones are too long and unnecessary for our purpose), the recovered treasures were carried to the meeting-house and there laid on clean mats where everyone might see them, and then were heard the lamentations of the women as they cried over and addressed the long lost weapons of their ancestors.

“One of these weapons had come long ago from the Ngati-Kuia tribe of the South Island. And it was Takurangi who divined the cause of sickness at Ohau. Persons had eaten of the watercress which grew in the streams that flowed from the spring in which the two meres had been hidden; and eels had also been caught there, so the people had suffered without knowing the cause. Takurangi also discovered the plum tree the fruit of which had caused sickness, and she pointed it out and explained that it grew on a sacred place. There was a red pine growing close to it, and the spot was a place where the bodies of the dead had decayed. When this was pointed out the principal man present said that the tree, or trees, would be cut down.

“Well, there was yet another successful search for a hidden ancestral treasure, and this was carried out through Takurangi’s powers a few days ago. The wise-woman was told that an ancient and very valuable jadeite patu (mere) had been buried long ago by Te Whare-pouri of Te Ati-Awa tribe at the foot of a pou-tohu-rohe, or boundary post set up by him and his kinsman Te Puni,  near the Ngauranga stream on the shores of Wellington Harbour. This mere the descendants of Te Whare-pouri now desired to recover, and they sought Takurangi’s supernatural powers to do so. Accordingly a large party of people went to Nga-uranga by motor car. They halted at Takurangi’s bidding a short distance on the southern or Wellington side by the mouth of the stream where the meat works are. Led by the wise-woman, her assistant Mate-haere following with the garden fork, we climbed up the hillside to an old land-slip of rock, gravel and earth overgrown with karamuramu and koromiko scrub and small ngaio trees. Arriving at a certain place on the hillside, on land owned by an European, Takurangi bade Mate-haere clear away a small space in the bushes, and there, between two slabs of rock, a beautiful jadeite mere was found. This was the veritable weapon buried there by Te Whare-pouri three generations ago. Many changes had occurred since and the exact spot where the boundary post stood had been lost, but Takurangi’s power, as medium of Mahuta’s wairua, and through the măna of the sacred pounamu which she constantly wore, enabled the lost property to be restored to the people.

“The mere was taken to a small stream of water which issued from the hills, and there a ceremony, similar to that observed at Ohau, was performed to free the weapon from the baneful tapu.

It is through the possession of this very sacred jadeite ornament of the Potatau family, together with the spirit-voice of Mahuta, and of Potatau, heard in the sleeping ear, that such deeds as these are performed by my wife Takurangi. And this power is used only for good and useful purposes, the recovery of lost treasures and detection of the causes of people’s illnesses. It is not makutu (witchcraft) or any other evil mahi tohunga (priest’s work), but its reverse—it is similar to the miracles mentioned in the Bible—and it is a power not to be used lightly or for reward. Many have asked Takurangi to use her powers for finding articles, but she refuses; it is only for highly important occasions or needs.

“Our expression for such highly sacred things as those endowed with măna-tapu (sacred supernatural power) from departed ancestors, is ‘He taumata no te hunga wairua,’ or ‘He okiokinga no te hunga wairua’ (signifying a holy and potent emblem from the company of departed souls).

Not only does the spirit of Mahuta accompany Takurangi, but that spirit calls to its aid the spirits of other dead to assist in whatever mission is being pursued. When the sacred mere of Te Whare-pouri was being sought, the wairua, or spirit, of Te Whare-pouri was brought to Takurangi by the wairua of Mahuta, and it was through these spirit guides that Takurangi knew exactly where to search, and so recovered the lost treasure.”


No. 2.—Mahuta, shortly before his death, informed his people that although he was departing, he would return to them. That is the reason they do not tangi (mourn) over him; they knew he would come back. The Waikato belief is, says Te Heuheu, that his spirit has now returned and that Takurangi is its medium, or the person in whose powers and performances the spirit manifests itself.

7 thoughts on “Clairvoyance among the Maoris- an article by Percy Smith and James Cowan

    • If you click on the link at the top for the “journal of the Polynesian society” you may find some.
      Otherwise reading Elsdon Bests books on the religionof the Maori people often has similar articles. If you google Elsdon Best online often there are whole books of his to read.


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