Sunday, November 13, 2022

Barend Vlaardingerbroek: Research needed on poltergeists, nightmares and black cats in Aotearoa!

The Battersea Poltergeist of 1956 was taken deadly seriously

Two Māori scholars want to take taniwha out of the realm of fairy tales. 

Kirsty Dunn and Madi Williams from the University of Canterbury Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha have received a grant from the Marsden Fund to write biographies of up to 15 taniwha............... 

“We want to ask who are taniwha rather than what are taniwha? What are the connections between our taniwha narratives and what kind of knowledge is embedded in these narratives as well as looking at how they can help us understand and navigate our current challenges we face in Aotearoa as well as the wider globe as well,” she says.  

-  Waatea News 11 Nov (emphasis added)

Spirits – both nice ones and nasty ones, but especially the latter – appear to occasionally stow away in migrants’ luggage to set up shop outside their home territory.

Despite many Maori having crossed the Tasman, there have not been any reports of taniwha from Bondai Beach or anywhere else in Australia, but this may be down to reporters of spooky events not having had knowledge of taniwha. Some serious research is needed into reports of the paranormal in Aus, especially in the Sydney area, to see whether some of them may be attributable to adventurous taniwha.

Some of the European spooks definitely made the successful crossing from their lands of origin to NZ. One of these was the poltergeist, as per this NZ Herald report of 16 October 2020:
Pukekohe poltergeist: Terrified residents call in witch after ghostly encounters

Ghost-busters are being brought in to rid a Pukekohe home of evil spirits after terrified Filipino workers complained it is "haunted" by ghouls.

The scared men report the troubling presence of three female spirits at the old Pukekohe villa and have engaged the services of a good witch to cast them out…….

One man reported feeling a slap to the face in the middle of the night, waking to find he was completely alone.

The men also reported "lights getting turned on and off, footsteps and running in the room".

Pool said the men also claimed to have heard "constant crying, women crying" and one of the men reported experiencing a form of paralysis.

The allusion to an ‘old villa’ would date the appearance of this cluster of obviously related immigrant poltergeists to some time in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Research is needed.

Another kind of nasty spirit that traversed the Pacific was the mara, a demon that sits on people’s chests at night and makes them have bad dreams – the term ‘nightmare’ is a corruption of ‘night mara’ and has nothing to do with horses. Nightmares are a major psychological issue in NZ (see ‘Nightmares and Things That Go Bump in the Night’, Psychology Today, 26 October 2017). Going by on-line dictionaries, it is debatable whether there is a precise Maori language equivalent for ‘nightmare’ (which is much a stronger notion than is implied by ‘scary dream’) and so there is a possibility that Europeans brought the offending spirit to these shores. Research is called for.

Cats too were introduced by Europeans, including black cats, which are associated with evil and bad luck. Woe betide anyone whose path is crossed by a Cantabrian giant black cat (see Steven Walton’s ‘How the debate about the Canterbury Panther began’, Stuff, 20 March 2021, although he tries to avoid the real issue). But not all cultures take the same dismal view of black cats (see e.g. It would appear that they are not tarred with the same brush as taniwha by Maori (Molly Huggan, ‘Black cats are not the same as taniwha’, The Spinoff, 12 November 2022). Clearly, serious research is indicated.

Poltergeists, night-maras and black cats are but instances of phenomena that cultural barbarians would relegate to the ‘realm of fairy tales’. This is deadly serious stuff and we have a Treaty obligation (no doubt) to conduct exhaustive research into the way these phenomena impact indigenous NZ society since we brought them here in the first place. The good news is that, now I am retired, I have plenty of time to delve into these issues. $360,000 would be an adequate start-up (cf. ‘Taniwha research project gets big fund boost’ Te Ao news 7 November 2022).

Dr Barend Vlaardingerbroek spent many years at universities in PNG, Botswana and Lebanon. Feedback welcome at


Anonymous said...

They are taking the money and taking the piss. They are setting themselves up for a huge backlash hopefully. I might have to reluctantly vote for ACT to disestablish ALL the treaty gravy train BS.

Robert Arthur said...

It must nowadays be easy for any teachers if any are still so inclined to set comprehension questions and clear writing tests for exams. Just exactly what the supporting case for the taniwha junket means is beyond me. I guess an all expenses met (including koha) met tour of all marae will be a minimum requirment. If and when a result is produced presumably it will be reviewed not by any real authority, but by someone qualified in and brainwashed by Maori Studies.