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April 11, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Ngāi Tauira – Beyond Belief : Fact or Fiction?

Remember that one? It was the TV programme where you were given five different stories and the challenge was to identify which stories were based on fact and which were fiction, made up to fill in space. Typically the stories defied ‘logic’ and had supernatural elements in them; a cheap thrill if you were into horror stories.

The point of that programme (if there was a point to it) was that strange things do occur in real life. We are a world of many different cultures, customs and beliefs and what may be strange to us could just be a normal occurrence to others. Do you believe that?

Let’s try this local story on for size: Janet Moses. 22-years old, mother-of-two, lived in Wainuiomata, and died during an exorcism ceremony performed by members of her family. Fact or fiction?

I’m sure most of you have heard of this tragic incident that occurred in 2007. It practically happened in our own backyard. So this is fact. It happened.

But how many people actually believe in the reasons and circumstances behind it? It’s easy to believe a person died from drowning, but it’s not so easy to believe that this person died by the hands of family members who believed she was cursed and possessed by evil spirits. The reasons behind the perceived occurrence are hard to believe. Could the outcome be avoided? Yes, I think it could have been. But was there really a curse? Was she really possessed by evil spirits? Or was this situation all based on fiction?

Well. Do you believe in makutu? Do you know what it means and what it is? It’s typically roughly translated into ‘curse’, but relying on a definition of a Western concept for a Māori concept is never a good idea, so that can only be used as a guideline. But whether or not you believe in it, there are those of us who do. Though Māori have lost a lot of knowledge, particularly knowledge that relates to makutu, there are different degrees and levels of knowledge and understanding that each iwi or hapu (or in this case, whānau) have managed to retain. (Colonisation played a big part in this, but I’ll leave that little can of worms for another time.)

I’ve been taught to be wary and respectful of all things considered to be ‘supernatural’, and that those who have passed on are still active agents in our lives. I’ve been told about the spiritual qualities of water—its ability to lift negative forces from a person, object or space. I believe there are those among our people who have the knowledge and understanding of dealing with the ‘supernatural’, and those who only know as
much as I do; the absolute basics.

So did Janet Moses’ family know what they were doing? Idon’t know, but they paid the ultimate price for it. Was it all just fiction they were basing their actions around? No, I don’t believe it was. Of course, the facts and full details of what actually happened, what was going on and whether it was a makutu are not known. However, makutu is not to be taken lightly, and if her family believed Janet to be suffering from it, then it looks as though they took it very seriously.

There are always reasons, meanings and history behind why we believe what we believe in. And if the question of validity comes up for some people, then I would challenge them to look at their own beliefs before anyone else’s and ask—are they based on fact or fiction?

People might think that our Maori beliefs are archaic, ancient and irrelevant for modern times, but for us, they’re still just as relevant nowadays as they were hundreds of years ago. You can’t tell me that symbolically eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a person/God is any different? Some might think ‘where’s the logic in that?’ But for Christians, it’s no different. It’s relevant to them, just as our beliefs are relevant to us.

So go beyond belief. Every culture and belief has its own logic, but as with anything, people can stuff up. And what happened with Janet Moses was a serious stuff-up. However, it’s the belief that’s beyond comprehension for some and that’s what people are trying to grapple with. But that’s why it’s called belief. It can be fact and fiction. You believe it, or don’t.


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