It is true that many of the illnesses were introduced by visiting sailors in the 17th and 18th century, too many to mention. We are well aware of many epidemics suffered by our people in the last century when hundreds died.
Papaa medicine and treatment were introduced about the time of annexation. Let’s focus on local and traditional medicine.
In our culture, all those with special skills are granted special taunga (tahunga) status. There are different types of taungas, there is the high priest of worship, the navigator taunga, the artist taunga and the subject of this discussion, the taunga vairakau, the medicine man or woman.
This person was also known as the taunga rapakau maki, their work centres around restorative, remedial, and curative healing using traditional medicine.
These people learnt their healing skills from father to son, or mother to daughter. Many of these skills are confined to certain families only, with deep spiritual leanings.
An individual I studied said he can check heart beat and body temperature to know that a person could be having a heart, kidney, urinal, womb and other woman’s problems, including diabetes and cancer.
He never prescribes papaa medicine. All his medicine is from plant material, the favourite, “mile a minute,” noni, aloe vera, fresh coconut husk, ironwood tree bark, cactus, coconut oil, pawpaw, custard apple to name a few.
Sometimes when conventional medicine which includes surgical operations fail, people turn to the taunga rapakau maki for treatment. Many people suffer from permanent pain. They seek pain-free treatment from the local taunga.
There are only a select few to choose from. These healers have huge followings.
One big secret about our local taungas is that they will not solicit payment or reward. They say if they do that, their treatment will lose its healing power. It is entirely up to the patient to decide whether to make an offering or not. The rate of success according to my sources are incredible.
Necessity is the mother of invention. If locals are dissatisfied with their medical treatment, they rip the bandage off and turn to a taunga. These people say they can heal and repair broken bones faster than conventional medical treatment.
Treatment includes some form of massaging. The healers suffer from the bad exploits of others. Allegations of sham, fake and quirkish misbehaviour of others spoil things for the genuine healers.
This country experienced the alleged water healing powers of the late Apii Piho, the five god’s cult leader who treated people for whatever illness, with nothing but bathing in blessed water, 20 years ago.
She had trouble with her water bills when she was treating people in Onehunga, Auckland.
The most delicate area of taunga treatment involves massaging women. There can be no improper motives. A short shelf life will result if a fake taunga behaves improperly towards his patients.
The entire experience of taunga treatment is based on the patient making a free informed choice. There has to be an abundance of caution. Any mis-step by the taunga will result in police prosecution.
It becomes dangerously critical if a male taunga massages a woman’s breast, stomach and lower abdomen. My understanding is that this is based entirely on the patient’s consent and approval.
I am told that some patients have problems handling their private lives because of permanent pain and discomfort. Some have psychological problems.
Collapsed wombs are included in treatments by my informants. It is not just a matter of tying a pareu band around a woman’s lower waist. It can involve some sensitive actions as well.
I have advised the male taungas to always have another woman present when treating women.
We are aware of naturopath healer Barbara O’Neill who appeared on the Cook Islands News recently. She has a drumbeat of followers. No one is forced to seek treatment from her. She is swimming against mainstream medicine. There has to be acceptance that modern medicine does not always cure everything.
Are healers’ assets or liabilities? One thing to start off with, they are not sociopaths (people without feelings). To my knowledge, they are loving and caring people. Our taunga’s here in the Cook Islands are kind, highly respected church going Christians.
Kua rava teia.