Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Jerry Coyne: Indigenous psychiatry - how valuable is it?

I’ve written a lot about how New Zealand is valorizing indigenous knowledge, and the educational system is on the path to teaching Mātauranga Māori (“MM”)—a mixture of myth, legend, practical knowledge acquired by trial and error, and spirituality—as “science”, coequal to science in science classes. There is some science in MM, but as a whole it is certainly not the same thing as modern science, and many of its claims are either dubious or palpably false. To teach MM in science classes is to deprive the children of New Zealand of an understanding of science.

Many New Zealanders seems to regard everything about its indigenous people as not only valid, but admirable. A lot of it is, but many Kiwis are too cowed to stand up to some of the more questionable claims of the Māori, including the claim that their Polynesian ancestors discovered Antarctica centuries ago. I know about this fear because Kiwis who do stand up against nonsense get persecuted, and I get emails from lots of them who agree with me but say that they dare not speak up because they’ll lose their jobs.

The latest effort to “indigenize” knowledge is the bestowing of a huge pot of money on Māori organizations to use “ancestral knowledge” to help cure mental health issues among the indigenous people. This is described in the Newshub article below, which you can click to read:

The article notes that “The new Māori Health Authority has a budget of half a billion dollars and CEO Riana Manuel has allocated $100 million of that to support centuries-old treatments.”

And there is a need for treatment, for the article also notes this:

Māori have the highest suicide rates of all ethnic groups in New Zealand. Mental distress among Māori is almost 50 percent higher than non-Māori and 30 percent are more likely to be left undiagnosed.

Now of course we can’t attribute this to problems that are unique to Māori, as I doubt there was a control for levels of income and other stressors that differ among ethnic groups. But there is a push to use Māori-centered therapy to cure mental illness in that ethnicgroup, and 100 million dollars for using “centuries-old treatments” is a lot of money.

What are these treatments? It’s not clear, but they’re based on lunar cycles and what can only be called psychoastrology. It’s confusing because the article is, as so often happens in Kiwi news, larded with Māori terms that even non-Māori can’t understand. See if you can suss it out:

Not so well known to non-Māori is their tradition of using the moon and stars to help treat mental health issues.

It’s called maramataka and will be incorporated into treatment by the new Māori Health Authority.

Rereata Makiha is on a mission to share ancestral knowledge with the next generation.

He’s an expert on maramataka Māori, or the Māori lunar calendar, and forecasting based on the moon cycles, star systems, tides, and the environment.

“The maramataka helps you, helps us to predict when things are going to happen, to tell us when the fish are going to run, when the eels are going to run – all those sorts of things,” he said.

“When you understand it a lot it’s a brilliant guide on when you should be doing certain things.”

Rikki Solomon teaches at-risk rangatahi and whānau how to use maramataka for improving mental health and knowing when to spend time doing certain activities in nature or around whanau.

“If we find that a whanau has had a low time or they may feel low, what we use is the maramataka to identify their cycles, their highs, and their lows,” Solomon said.

“What we observe in those low areas is what are some rituals at that time. And what I mean about rituals is what is the environment that they can connect to, because our environment is our biggest healer.”

That doesn’t really clear things up, but here’s more on the practice, with quotes from Riana Manuel, CEO of the Māori Health Authority:

“Connecting people back to those spaces and places that have been long forgotten is certainly something that will be investing in,” Manuel said.

Just like they do with Matariki, Māori use maramataka as a way of reading the cosmos to prepare for what’s coming.

“It’s a way of rebuilding the body, your wairua, and rebuilding your energy and getting prepared for the high energy days ahead,” Makiha said.

“So it goes in waves like that and if people understand it and go back to that rather than rush, rush, rush every day, I think that’s what drives a lot of the ill-health.”

If you can figure out what they’re doing from this, you’re a better person than I am.

Now there may indeed be a benefit to using Māori practitioners and ancient Māori practices to treat mental illness. After all, people often feel that therapists who have a background similar to their own are more desirable. Women, for example, often feel that a woman therapist will treat their problems better, and the same goes for ethnic minorities. So there may be something to shared experience and background that is therapeutic (there’s also, of course, a placebo effect).

My criticism here is simply that these practices are being adopted in the absence of clinical trials, and so there is only a “traditional” basis for the therapy. Might Māori be helped more with other practices, like cognitive behavioral therapy, practices that have been tested and shown to be efficacious? Or even medication, which has a significant effect on things like depression. (A combination of talk and drug therapy seems to be the most curative).

As a colleague wrote me, this absence of scientific testing of a method that will absorb $100 million is the same issue raised with MM: what is claimed (or assumed) to be “scientific” has not been vetted using the scientific method. To quote the colleague:

This is exactly the problem that led me to raise concerns about MM versus science in the first place. We now have two alternate sets of “facts.” One is based on scientific evidence, and the other may be supported by some evidence but has never been tested in a way that would be considered acceptable for medical science.

Mental health is a form of health, and this is like treating diseases using astrology and “traditional methods” that have never been subject to genuine scientific tests. Doesn’t it seem wise, before investing $100 million in mental-health treatment, that the government of New Zealand be sure that those treatments actually work?

Sadly, that’s not the way the New Zealand government rolls.

Jerry Coyne is an American biologist known for his work on speciation and his commentary on intelligent design, a prolific scientist and author. This article was first published HERE 


Ray S said...

In order for stone age medical practices to be effective, the recipient has to believe that what is on offer will have the desired benefit. For that to happen, the recipient would first have to be indoctrinated from birth. Much the same as various religions do.
If a recipient did not believe the process, he or she would most likely defer to western medicine.
As for Maori ancient medicine practitioners, with a $100M on offer, who can blame them.

DeeM said...

$100 MILLION DOLLARS - that's a lot, even for Dr Evil!

What a disgrace. That this amount of money should be spent on old wahines tales and witch-doctor superstitions, when it could be spent on REAL health outcomes, or real nurses or real beds.
It's a disgrace for all of us, because it's all of our tax dollars being pissed up against the wall.
But it's particularly a disgrace for ordinary Maori because it's part of their health budget.

Never mind, when it's all gone in a steaming flash, Nanaia's sister will stamp her foot and demand more from the Pakeha to waste on something else.
One thing is a cast-iron guarantee. Maori health outcomes will NOT improve by any measure and in a few years time I wouldn't be surprised if all the Maori health stats are even worse.... just like child poverty, mental health, house building, education standards etc etc etc.

Everything this government touches turns to dust.

Robert Arthur said...

Also a disgrace is that msm have not picked up on this and made a meal of it. It is pure witch doctor stuff. It is terrifying that maori influence is now so great that no or few other educated persons knowledgeable of real science dare comment.

ihcpcoro said...

Our neighbors were a husband and wife, both experienced police officers. They reckoned that there was a definite increase in certain types of offending around the time of a full moon. Don't think that the moon has any ethnic bias however.

Anonymous said...


Organised Matariki Festivals are a comparatively recent brown supremacist fabrication.

The Carter Observatory's learning and programming manager, John Field, said in a 2013 article published on "If you went back about 15 years, no-one had heard of Matariki. It was only celebrated in the far north or middle of the North Island," he said. "After Te Reo became more popular, Matariki became much more of a celebration."

According to Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ: "Matariki celebrations were popular before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, and they continued into the 1900s. Gradually they dwindled, with one of the last traditional festivals recorded in the 1940s.

“In 2000, Matariki celebrations were revived. Their increasing popularity has led to some [brown supremacists] to suggest that Matariki should replace the Queen's birthday as a national holiday.

"When Te Rangi Huata organised his first Matariki celebrations in Hastings in 2000, about 500 people joined him. In 2003, 15,000 people came. Te Rangi Huata believes that Matariki is becoming more popular because it celebrates Māori culture and in doing so brings together all New Zealanders: ‘It’s becoming a little like Thanksgiving or Halloween, except it’s a celebration of the Maori culture here in (Aotearoa) New Zealand. It’s New Zealand's Thanksgiving.'"

In your dreams, bud.

Matariki clearly has nothing to do with bringing groups together. The underlying agenda is to foster a brown supremacist consciousness in part-Maori along much the same lines as the made-up Kwanzaa in the US.

Creative Hawkes Bay’s website advises: Te Rangi Huata has 20 years indigenous arts management experience in Asia, Australia, and North America.” He clearly witnessed first-hand how successful Kwanzaa proved in building a separatist racial consciousness in Black Americans and identified the opportunity to do much the same thing here.

Anonymous said...


Kwanzaa was invented by Ron Karenga (aka Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga) in 1966. He branded it a black alternative to Christmas. The idea was to celebrate the end of what he considered the Christmas-season exploitation of African Americans.

According to the official Kwanzaa Web site -- as opposed, say, to the Hallmark Cards Kwanzaa site -- the celebration was designed to foster "conditions that would enhance the revolutionary social change for the masses of Black Americans" and provide a "reassessment, reclaiming, recommitment, remembrance, retrieval, resumption, resurrection and rejuvenation of those principles (Way of Life) utilised by Black Americans' ancestors."

Karenga postulated seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith, each of which gets its day during Kwanzaa week. He and his votaries also crafted a flag of black nationalism and a pledge: "We pledge allegiance to the red, black, and green, our flag, the symbol of our eternal struggle, and to the land we must obtain; one nation of black people, with one God of us all, totally united in the struggle, for black love, black freedom, and black self-determination."

Kwanzaa's overt promotion of collectivism, identity politics, and group “struggle” is straight out of the Marxist-Leninist National Question playbook, same as modern-day Matariki celebrations in New Zealand.

Tony Snow, a columnist for the Detroit News, said this of Kwanzaa: “Nobody ever ennobled a people with a lie or restored stolen dignity through fraud. Kwanzaa is the ultimate chump holiday -- Jim Crow with a false and festive wardrobe. It praises practices – ‘cooperative economics, and collective work and responsibility’ -- that have succeeded nowhere on earth and would mire American blacks in endless backwardness.

“Our treatment of Kwanzaa provides a revealing sign of how far we have yet to travel on the road to reconciliation. The white establishment has thrown in with it, not just to cash in on the business, but to patronise black activists and shut them up.”

To paraphrase that second paragraph, we might say: “Our treatment of Matariki provides a revealing sign of how … The white establishment has thrown in with it, not just for that warm glow which comes from being ‘culturally sensitive,’ but to patronise brown supremacists and shut them up.”

Meanwhile, the Marxist-Leninist agenda of polarising groups in order to create racial/cultural conflict chugs quietly on.

Anonymous said...

Of course people all over the world have had their folk-medicine, and found some relief from minor ills and discomforts. Maori may well still use herbal teas and poultices to some effect as do others. Emotional distress too can be addressed when sufferers feel attended too and supported in ways that give them confidence.
Folk medicine won't cure cancer though and it's pretty ineffective against crackpot wokesterism. Sadly there's a lot of that about these days.