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Maori Alternative Medicine (continued)

Over this wrapping was a covering of warm, dry absorbent moss, and then a wrap called a kope, enveloped the whole and kept the moss in place.

In the middle of the North Island babies were wrapped in the bark of the hoheria, which was first beaten to make it soft.

The moss, which acted as a diaper, varied in different localities.

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Angiangi was a popular one. (The women used this as diapers.) In the Taihape area they used kohukohu, a fine absorbent moss, and at Hokianga wae wae kou kou was the moss best liked. It has a very pleasant perfume, which may have been one of the reasons for their choice.

On the east coast the baby was covered with muka scraping, the silky floss from the inner leaf of the flax. This they called kukukuku.

In olden times this was the covering for the first two or three weeks of life. Morning and evening this was removed, the baby washed, and then gently massaged, the mother using a little warm oil (usually from the titoki).

The baby was again covered tightly in fresh warm leaves, the moss and cape. At the end of this period babies were placed in baskets of tightly woven flax, large enough to hold them in comfort.

A diaper called a kope made of moss or lichen was wrapped round the buttocks; then held in place by a large leaf. Over this a little cloak. Then the basket was filled loosely up to the child's neck with muka.

This was a favourite material, as it could be washed a hundred times and dried to use again. I have been told it would last for fifty years.

This was changed each day and fresh moss or muka placed in the basket. In some districts, especially on the east coast, babies stayed in these baskets for most of the first year of life.

Massage was considered highly important and was continued for several years, the mothers using different movements of their hands. Knees and ankles received special attention so that these joints would always be supple.

Totoia nga waewae 0 to tamahine

Kia ataahua ai te haere

I nga parae o Turanga.

Massage the legs of your daughter

So she will walk with grace

Across the plains (maraes) of Poverty Bay.

Babies were left in the baskets when their mothers were working, when it was cold or wet, and at night when the baskets were hung on rafters high above the heads of their parents.

This practice must have saved many a young life, as they were safe above the smoky fires and the crowd of sleeping people in the wharepuni.

At other times they were carried in a sling on the mother's back. This was made of lacebark (hoheria), pounded to make it soft.

When in this, they wore a little cloak to keep them warm and dry. Plaited supplejack vines were made into frames and young children learning to walk were held in them. They must have been very similar to the children's harness worn today.

Shortly after the birth of a baby it was the custom for the mother to sit in front of her house with the infant, and relatives came with greetings and gifts for the child.

The christening was performed down by a stream by the tohunga, who waved a branch (previously dipped in water) over the baby's head and chanted an appropriate karakia.

The loving care and high order of intelligence shown by these customs should fire us with a great admiration for those mothers, who had only primitive materials to work with, especially as we know that the infant death rate was very low and malformed limbs and imbecility very rare indeed.

Angiangi was bruised in the hand and then pressed over a wound to check bleeding. When wet this lichen has extraordinary absorbent qualities.

Sphagnum moss was also used by Maori mothers living near the swamps where it grew. It could absorb a hundred times its own dry weight in water. This was the moss used as a dressing for wounds in bot.

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Check out our great selection of English-Maori dictionary.