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No. 25 (December 1958)
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(Photograph: Peter Blanc)


A LOT of people will be swimming and fishing this summer and inevitably there will be some accidents. And whenever such accidents are mentioned to a Maori of the old school he will talk lovingly of a piece of old Maori medical lore about how to revive the drowned. Yet this is one occasion where it is unwise to accept ancient Maori lore, for this old method is definitely dangerous.

A recent newspaper clipping described this traditional method as follows. After draining some water out of the drowned victim, he was strung up to a branch of a tree by the feet, and massaged all over while a fire was lit underneath and green leaves were heaped on the embers so the smoke billowed out thickly. The body was swung gently to and fro into the smoke, enabling the victim to enhale it. In the case described in this newspaper, the victim recovered, although it took him an hour to regain consciousness.

Modern medical knowledge suggests, however, the recovery was definitely not due to the treatment. Dr T. O. Garland, in his book ‘Artificial Respiration’, issued by the N.Z. Department of Health, says, ‘There is no easy recovery possible in this position. It any one cares to experiment and hang by the heels for a few minutes, he will soon find breathing extremely difficult. In fact, most people will pass into unconsciousness fairly quickly when hung in the head-down position. It was the custom to hang up the drowned in mediaeval Europe, as well as in New Zealand among the Maoris. Presumably the idea comes from the conception that there is much water in the body following the process of drowning. The idea of subjecting the victim to smoke presumably comes from the irritant effect of smoke on a conscious person.’ Dr Garland points out that one cannot breathe in smoke for more than a few minutes before coming unconscious because of the carbon dioxide.

He therefore does not think this method is of any use. It may be helpful to publish here a much better method which is the best one known to modern science. It is known as the Holger Nielson method and anyone who spends much time around the water would do well to practice it a little in case he is ever called upon to help a drowned person.

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This simple method of restoring the breath of the drowned has saved innumerable lives. It is reproduced here so it may become more widely known in the Maori world.

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Movement One: The victim's arms are folded and his face turned sideways and placed on his hand. The operator kneels at the head and prepares to apply pressure on the shoulder blades.

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Movement Two: Rock forward on straight elbows until arms are nearly vertical, gently applying pressure (adult 33 to 44 lbs, small women and children from 5 to 15 years, 22 to 26 lbs, toddlers 2 to 4 lbst.

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Movement Three: Rock back slowly, sliding hands to victim's arms just above elbow, grasp arms and continue to rock backward.

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Movement Four: Raise the arms until slight tension is felt and draw them slightly towards the operator, to elevate and expand the chest. Finally lower the arms, completing the cycle. (Photographs—National Publicity Division)