The Maori exorcism you haven't heard of

Actors recreating the exorcism in documentary film Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses. Source: Supplied

A New Zealand documentary is shedding light on one of the most mysterious and baffling cases of 'exorcism' and 'possession' in recent years.

Belief: The Possession Of Janet Moses is currently making its way around the international film festival circuit and is based on the real-life case of a 22-year-old Maori woman who died in 2007 during a ritual.

Exorcism on film has generally been popularised through Western depictions, with the documentary - which uses a combination of interviews and reenactments - offering an alternative viewpoint.

Medical experts determined Janet Moses died from drowning after she had water continuously poured down her throat by members of her family who were performing a makutu lifting.

It has been less than a decade since her death and the subsequent trial that captivated New Zealand, yet it's a case that has largely flown under the radar overseas - until now.

Moses had been struggling with the death of her grandmother when she started exhibiting unusual behaviour in mid-2007.

She had also been dealing with the breakdown of her relationship and looking after her two young daughters, all things that eventually built up to such an intense level her family began to question whether she had an "evil spirit" within her.

Forensic psychiatrist Rees Tapsell - one of the subjects interviewed in the film - says there was "evidence of her becoming psychotic" and that her actions could have been from an underlying mental condition triggered by the stresses in her personal life.

And while that may seem like the clear answer to some, Moses was from a religious Maori family that thought a recent act - stealing a concrete lion from a local nightspot - had brought an unwanted darkness into the home.

They consulted with a Maori elder within the local community of Wainuiomata, Wellington who advised them to return the lion.

Yet the unusual behaviours continued and after the elder left, her family members began an exorcism loosely based of what they believed a makutu lifting to be.

Around 40 people were in attendance across the days of Moses' exorcism, including a 14-year old girl who they believed too was touched by an evil spirit and was injured in the process.

Pouring water on Moses and down her throat repeatedly resulted in her death, with some family members unsuccessfully attempting resuscitation.

Medical assistance wasn't called and once she had passed away, attention soon turned to the young woman who blacked out.

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Eventually nine of Moses' family members appeared in court charged with manslaughter - six men and three women - all pleading not guilty.

The case lasted 29 days in total with over 100 witnesses called throughout its duration, many of those commenting on the specifics of makutu lifting rituals and how they were notably different to what occurred on the night of Moses' death.

After a 20 hour deliberation, the jury convicted five of those who were facing charges. However, none received jail time with the judge believing they had suffered enough and handing down community-based sentences.

The location where the exorcism took place was eventually demolished and a wider discussion began about makutu and the rituals of lifting curses among religious Maori in New Zealand.

After a coronial inquest, it was determined that lifting practises, generally, were safe and should continue under the guidance of experts - the contributing factor in Moses' case being that no one knew what the ritual entailed and participants merely improvised about what they thought it may be.

Known as the 'Wainuiomata exorcism', the case has drawn comparisons to the death of Joan Vollmer in Antwerp, Victoria in the nineties after she was killed during a Christian exorcism ritual.

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