Exorcism death inquiry complicated by cultural issues

Police say cultural issues are complicating an investigation involving the death of a woman during a spirit cleansing ritual.

Janet Moses, a 22-year-old mother of two, was found dead by police in a Wainuiomata house on October 12 after relatives had apparently held a ceremony to try and drive out a Maori curse or makutu.

Inquiry head Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Levy said a lot of water was used in the ceremony and police were treating the death as a drowning.

"I guess at the end of the day it's a question of whether the cultural practices are acceptable or unacceptable or whether they have crossed boundaries which negate them from being a traditional practice," Detective Levy said.

"Our main aim at this stage now is - having gathered all the information that we have - is to analyse that and determine any culpability of any individual or individuals..."

While the investigation was being treated as a homicide, there were a lot of legal and cultural issues to work through.

Police said as many as 40 people were in the house at the time of Ms Moses death.

"We are also in a very good position to know who was involved in the ceremony inside the address."

Mr Levy said establishing culpability would take expert legal and cultural opinion and that advice was being sought by police.

"What we're talking about here is maybe the law as it stands, interfaced with possible cultural practices.

Mr Levy said it could take weeks before police were able to establish a clear direction of where the case was heading.

It's been revealed a 14-year-old relative was also admitted to hospital after being involved in the ceremony.

She seemed to have undergone the same treatment as Ms Moses, he said.

The Dominion Post reported she was one of six people exorcised as relatives tried to drive out a makutu thought to have been caused by the theft of a statue.

A relative told The Dominion Post the curse originated from the theft by Ms Moses' sister of a lion statue from a pub in Greytown.

The relative said she believed the curse was put on Ms Moses because she was the weakest person in the family.

Maori educator Ranginui Walker said the concept of makutu was no longer a major element of Maori culture.

Dr Walker told Radio New Zealand it was common up to 70 years ago but those who still believed in the concept were now a minority as Maori culture had been urbanised.

Inquiry head Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Levy said last night it could take several weeks for police to establish which individuals were responsible for the death.

"The focus of our inquiry has been on the family members. They have been central to our inquiry and that is not likely to change."

He said Ms Moses' paternal family was not involved in the ceremony.

- NZPA

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