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N Z Med J. 1981 Jun 10;93(685):384-6.

Abortion in the nineteenth century Maori: a historical and ethnopsychiatric review.


The recorded evidence for the practice of induced abortion in the nineteenth century Maori is evaluated. Aborticide as opposed to feticide in late pregnancy an infanticide was very rare. Aborticide was not practised for fear of retributive Makutu.


The anthropological writings on the 19th-century pre-European Maori of New Zealand are reviewed. It seems that various observers misunderstood local folk customs and arrived at wrong conclusions regarding certain childbirth-related practices. Evaluation of the literature shows that induced abortion was not practiced among these people for fear of retributive Makutu. They did, however, attempt feticide by premature induction of labor in late pregnancy. Infanticide was also common. In support of these conclusions, it is noted that missionaries felt the need of speaking out against infanticide; they did not mention aborticide. The folk ritual of taiki, performed during pregnancy, was done not to induce abortion but to destroy the spiritual and punitive powers of the fetus so that infanticide could later be performed safely. the natives seem to have learned about inducing abortion through the use of herbal preparations only after observing white men doing so. The issue of illegitimacy as a reason for abortion is not an issue. Illegitimate children had differnet names but there was no stigma attached to being an unwed mother or an illegitimate child. Aristocratic virgins (puhi) who conceived by a slave could not have hoped to redeem themselves by merely aborting the fetus.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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