Maori Healers as Local “Shamans” in a Global Context

I now turn to an exploration of traditions and cosmopolitanism in relation to contemporary Maori healers, some of whom self-identify as shamans. As Delugan (2010) points out, linking indigeneity and cosmopolitanism initially seems contradictory, with indigenous people supposedly locked into traditions and customs bounded by a particular time and place, in direct contrast to cosmopolitans with a global and inclusive perspective. Some scholars argue that these distinctions have lost their “sharp contours,” and that the boundaries between local and global are “blurred and indistinct ... more permeable to flows of information” (Beck 2009: xi, xii). Perhaps a cosmology such as that attributed to ancient Maori, who viewed the universe as a fabric woven from a “fabulous melange of energies” (Royal 2003: xiii), lends itself to an “indigenous cosmopolitanism” (Biolsi 2005, cited in Delugan 2010: 84). In the physical world manifested by those energies, Maori, in common with other indigenous peoples, are subject to and participate in complex global flows that have the potential to both challenge and extend or enrich their traditions. Maori healers live and interact within a global sphere as they travel and export their healing practices to Europe and the Americas, and intermingle with other indigenous people, discovering commonalities between their traditions. Some contemporary Maori healers are eclectic in their practices, borrowing from others’ teachings and creating new practices and traditions. Others, though, do not feel the need to bring in new methods, saying that the traditional teachings they have received work for them and the people they treat.

Nowicka and Rovisco (2009: 9) observe that “while individuals can become more cosmopolitan in distinct world sites in rather banal ways (synchronic time), cosmopolitan identities, practices and ethico-political outlooks of various kinds are also tied to historically-rooted memories and imaginaries (diachronic time).” This observation is relevant when considering the changing practices of Maori healers. Ritual use of kara- kia (prayer), wai (water), rongoa (plant medicine), karanga (calling out) and waiata (song) are all traditional healing practices. Some healers work with their hands, using various forms of mirimiri (massage) and subtle energy healing, while others use oratory, song and movement, ritual and ceremony. Many blend and incorporate other teachings and traditions into their own cultural matrix. Some have websites and use Facebook to promote their work, developing and extending their traditions in creative ways that syncretically mix and match healing elements borrowed from numerous global sources, including other indigenous cultures, Western psychological and esoteric sources and Eastern martial arts and healing traditions. Some travel overseas, especially to Europe and North America, where healing centers are established by local contacts who publicize the healers’ arrival and book clients for the duration of their visit.13 Others conduct commercial spiritual tours within New Zealand that encourage international and New Zealand (Maori and Pakeha) spiritual seekers.14 Some healers promote their practices as an act of ethnic pride and renaissance. One Maori woman told me that if the innovators are well grounded in their tikanga, paradoxically they are then able to innovate authentically, building on their traditions, extending or adapting them for modern Maori and non-Maori audiences alike. They are exhibiting a form of cosmopolitanism that is diachronic—their innovative practices are embedded within a deep knowledge of their own tikanga.

 
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