Nga Teina, a former digger driver with no medical training, claims to have diagnosed and cured over 1000 cancer patients by vigorously rubbing their naked bodies.
“I didn’t want to do this job, but God wanted me to do this job,” he said.
His neighbour John Peyroux attests to the self-declared healer’s talents. Carloads of clients roll up to the south Auckland home round the clock, and neighbours occasionally hear “groaning” coming from Teina’s side of the fence.
“At first I just thought, ‘oh, there must be a party going on’,” said Peyroux, 56, who’s lived next door to Teina for a year.
One day Teina invited him over for a massage. He told Peyroux he was a faith healer and sensed the caregiver had cancer.
Peyroux’s met a few unorthodox men of medicine in his time – mainly in the Cook Islands, where the men were born – and Teina struck him as “a normal old faith healer”. Peyroux knows he “definitely doesn’t have cancer”, so declined Teina’s offer of a follow-up massage.
Teina, 62, lives in Otara and said up to 40 people a day arrive at his house for an “unblocking”, as he calls his massages. Most hail from the Pacific, most are female, and he said their ages have ranged between 13 and the late 80s. Clients pay what they are able, which is often nothing. Teina’s adult sons support him financially, believing their dad does God’s work.
A devout Christian, Teina claims God ordered him to stop driving diggers about ten years ago so he could focus fulltime on healing.
Teina has believed in his power to heal since he was a child. When he was 11, a horse fell onto his leg and left it paralysed. Movement returned when he rubbed the limb: it was then he “was sure God had given me powers”.
He now travels New Zealand and the world at the request of clients (and on their dime).
In March, an elderly Tokoroa woman complained to police that Teina had touched her inappropriately during a treatment session. He currently faces one charge of indecent assault and is scheduled to appear in the Tokoroa District Court next week.
He was believed to have performed “indecent acts on men and women under the guise of healing people of cancer” in New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific, said a police spokesperson.
On Friday, police confirmed more alleged victims had come forward and that further charges may be laid.
Last week, police contacted the Pacific Island Church in Tokoroa to inform them of their investigation into Teina. Church leader and chairman of the Tokoroa Cook Island community group Charlie Turia said parishioners were informed during a recent Sunday service.
The church has put support systems in place for church members that need it, he said.
One woman, who did not want to be named to protect her family members that receive massages from Teina, said some in her community believe he can cure cancer.
“I have family that go and see him and they’re like, ‘I feel so much better after seeing him,’ and I’m like, ‘you only feel better because you actually got up and walked and got some exercise’.”
She accuses Teina of playing the “cruelest scam on some of our sick people, who are desperate for a cure”.
Paul Hayes, a spokesman for the Cancer Society, said there was no scientific evidence of Teina’s methodology “helping cancer patients in any way”.
“This practice is potentially very harmful especially if cancer patients are choosing it over evidence based clinical treatment.”
In south Auckland, Teina’s clinic looks like a haunted circus tent. It’s a structure made of grubby tarpaulins extending from what once was a garage behind his house.
‘Come in’, reads a sign above its doorless entrance. The interior’s carpeted with bright woven Pasifika mats, each a different design. There’s seating for several dozen, plastic flower bouquets, and a huge white bucket with a label declaring it once held 30kg of custard filling. ‘DONATIONS’ has been scrawled on the bucket in black marker.
A massage table has been cordoned off behind a white curtain in one corner of the space. Framed pictures of Jesus form a frieze around the makeshift room, though at the head of the table is a large painting of two naked men wrestling in the sea.
“Just ignore that one,” said Teina. Baby oil and two gas heaters sit on a shelf next to the massage table.
The first thing Teina does with a new patient is explain exactly how he goes about treating their supposed cancer, he said.
They take their clothes off. Some leave undies on, said Teina, but most do not. If they prefer, they can don a floral lavalava which Teina will reach beneath to ensure the skin-on-skin contact.
Patients lie on the massage table and Teina rubs them – or “unblocks them”, as he calls it – vigorously, all over their bodies. It only takes a few minutes, he said.
Stuff next visited Teina on Thursday and five people sat around a table beneath the tarpaulin roof. All claimed Teina had cured them of cancer and said they had referred others on to him.
Amaru Ngatuakana, a pastor from Glen Innes, said Teina diagnosed him with prostate, liver and lung cancer the first time they met, just by looking at him. It was true Ngatuakana felt very sick – but doctors had been unable to tell him what was wrong, the 68-year-old, originally from the Cook Islands, explained.
“I asked what had caused the cancer, and he told me it was careless eating.
“Then he told me he had a gift from God and could cure my cancer. He gave me his card, and I could see on the card that this is what he does.”
Ngatuakana had 21 sessions with Teina before he was declared cancer-free, by Teina. That was in 2017. His wife, Esther, was also sick that year and was also diagnosed by Teina as having cancer.
“I would never allow chemotherapy because I trust in God and have the option to come here instead,” the 71-year-old said. She went in for 21 sessions as well.
The others there had almost identical stories. Nui Tuakana, a retired seamstress with a pink hibiscus behind her ear, said she “would never trust a doctor because all they want is money”. The 66-year-old believed Teina diagnosed and cured her cancer within 21 days.
“I started bringing all my family to Nga and now they’ve all been cured,” she said.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said while it had was aware of faith healers claiming they could cure cancer, it had no idea how many were operating in New Zealand.
This type of healer usually took care to avoid coming to the attention of authorities and often treated vulnerable individuals and groups who believe the activity is legitimate and not report it, they said.
“While self described ‘holistic’ healers who carry out these behaviours are not centrally regulated there are several mechanisms for seeking to protect the public against providers of such services”, they said in a statement.
These include the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights, the Fair Trading Act and Consumer Guarantees Act, and the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act.
Teina appeared in Tokoroa DC on June 11, and is due to reappear on June 25.
Main image copyright: Chris McKeen/StuffNga
Written by: Amanda Saxton and Florence Kerr