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The persistence of the Tohunga Suppression myth 

Summarised by Centrist 

It’s one of the biggest myths of the modern Māori renaissance. Now a new analysis reveals what’s wrong with it.

Journalist Graham Adams says that in a recent Parliamentary debate on disestablishing the Māori Health Authority, several MPs referenced (yet again) the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 as a symbol of colonial oppression against traditional Māori knowledge. Yet, the historical context surrounding the Act reveals a completely different narrative. 

Introduced by Māori statesman Sir James Carroll and supported by Māori MPs, including Apirana Ngata, the Act was aimed specifically at “charlatans” who exploited Māori superstition for personal gain rather than banning traditional healing practices outright. 

Adams says: “Not only was the legislation used sparingly — leading to only nine convictions — but prosecutions included a ‘White Tohunga’, Pakeha nurse Mary Anne Hill, of Grey Lynn, Auckland. Several of her patients (presumably Māori) died after she had treated them.”

Despite these facts, misinformation about the Act persists in media and academic circles, perpetuated by figures such as Treaty lawyer Roimata Smail. Smail’s recent publication, “Understanding Te Tiriti,” misrepresents the Act’s purpose, reinforcing a narrative of colonial oppression while ignoring its Māori origins. 

Read more over at The Platform


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