The devil's weed

The history of marijuana use and cultivation in Aotearoa has long been tied to the fates of Māori.

IN 1883, A delegation of Māori from near Hiruharama, on the sacred Whanganui River, petitioned the Bishop of Wellington for a Roman Catholic priest for their area.

Bishop Redwood, an anti-prohibitionist, sent his friend Suzanne Aubert, a French nun fluent in te reo Māori. By 1892 she had established the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion, in what we now call Jerusalem—Roma (Rome) and Peterehama (Bethleham). Aubert was a remarkable woman, taking in abandoned children, teaching and working with the poor. She wrote many books, including both French-Māori and English-Māori phrasebooks.

In December 2016, Pope Francis declared her 'venerable', an important step on the path to sainthood. She was also an exceptionally talented chemist and entrepreneur, and possibly our first professional cultivator of marijuana. Mother Aubert served during the Crimean war, as the Roman Catholics and those from the Eastern Orthodox church went to war over religious rights in the Holy Land, among other geopolitical reasons, and it's likely that during her training she would have been exposed to the French medicinal usage of 'Indian hemp'. Sister Mary, or 'Meri' as she came to be known, had a deep love of Māori, andthrough her fluency in te reo she came to learn traditional rongoā healing practices.

She prepared a range of herbal tinctures and remedies, which she packaged and sold all over the country to maintain the community at Jerusalem. There was 'Wanena' for cuts and bruises, 'Paramo' for liver complaints, 'Marupa' worked well for the flu and 'Natanata' was
"a splendid medicine for infants". 'Karana'was 'a reliable tonic'.

Mother Aubert's tonics were a combination of Western medicine and Māori tradition. And cannabis was there as an integral piece of the puzzle. After the Quackery Prevention Act was passed in 1908, and she was no longer allowed to sell her rongoā remedies, Mother Aubert threw her remaining stock in the Whanganui River and died without passing on her recipes. After that the relationship between Māori and cannabis, like that with the rest of the world, changed greatly.

Article continues in issue 135

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