During an October 2007 mākutu lifting (or exorcism) in the Wellington, New Zealand surburb of Wainuiomata, 22 year-old Janet Moses died and a 14-year-old female relation was injured. In 2009 nine members of Moses' extended family, all siblings of her mother or their spouses, were charged in relation to the event[1], one uncle and four aunts were subsequently found guilty of drowning Moses.[2]

The mākutu lifting and subsequent trial were notable for bringing makutu into the public consciousness in New Zealand and the large number of independent people who stepped forward to distance makutu lifting as they knew it from the events of in this case. Unprecedented media attention was paid to mākutu, mākutu lifting and Māori religion


Mākutu is a Māori language word which can be either a noun or a verb depending on context, it is translated into English as curse, witchcraft[3] or sorcery[4]. In modern orthography Mākutu is written with a macron where technically possible, but in historical sources and sometimes in modern sources (such as newspapers) with limited technical capabilities it is written without the macron.

The Mākutu and Mākutu Lifting

In the period prior to the mākutu lifting, Janet Moses had suffered the loss of her grandmother and relationship problems with her partner and father of her two children; the trial would later hear expert testimony that she likely had an "underlying psychiatric or psychological disorder."[5] A concrete lion was removed from a Greytown hotel without permission by family members and became connected to Moses' behaviour, the family said she was acting like a lion.[6] The family emblem was a lion, with at least one family member having a tattoo of a lion and the words 'Family united' over it.[7]

When they became concerned with her behaviour, Moses' family consulted kaumatua (elder) Timi Rahi, who prayed for her and blessed her, and advised the family to return the lion, which they did. Rahi instructed the family that it was their responsibility to carry out the healing.[8] After Rahi left, a prolonged mākutu lifting was performed by her predominantly maternal family at the Wainuiomata flat of Moses' late grandmother. The ceremony was improvised, as none of those involved had any knowledge of the procedure for a mākutu lifting. During the ceremony, so much water was used that the carpet had become soaked, and so a small hole in the floor had to be made for drainage. Neighbours heard rhythmic stomping and thumping throughout the night.[9]

At or about 8:00 AM on 12th October 2007, Janet Moses died by drowning. Her father, who had travelled from Christchurch through the night to support his daughter wasn't informed until his arrival at 4:30 PM. [10] Nine hours after the death the police were called.[11]

The Trial

Much of the trial centred on the issue of consent, that is whether Moses was a willing participant in the ritual. The trial ran for 29 days and 101 witnesses, many of them giving testimony relating to cultural and religious practises. The jury deliberated for 20 hours before convicting five of the eight maternal family members facing charges (another family member was discharged by the judge mid-trial).[12]

None of the convicted family members were sentenced to custodial sentences, the judge instead handing down community-based sentences.[13]

At the trial Charlie Moses, Janet's paternal grandfather took a stance supporting the charged 'We've made our peace with them. They didn't know what they were doing, even though I told them not to go down that road. They chose to do it anyway. For that mistake ... they're going to pay for the rest of their lives. I wish them well all the same.'[14]

See also


Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.