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Tapu: Te Awa Atua and the reclamation of Mana Wahine

Join a group of extraordinary waahine Maori entrepreneurs for a transformative afternoon of kōrero, performance and networking focused around the sacredness of Tapu: Te Awa Atua (The sacred river) or menstrual cycle.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PzG3ceWekk

32 mins | Recorded on Saturday 28 September 2019 at Taiwhanga Kauhau — Auditorium, (lower ground) National Library Wellington. Entrance on Aitken Street.

  • Transcript

    Speakers

    Cellia Joe, Dr Ngāhuia Murphy

    Cellia Joe: Nō Ngāti Manawa, nō Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana, Ngāi Tūhoe me Ngāti Kahungunu a Ngāhuia.

    Ngāhuia is a Kaupapa Māori researcher, educator, writer and presenter. Ngāhuia and her ground breaking study of Māori pre-colonial stories, ceremonies and practices regarding menstruation, led to the Waikato University Masters Research Award.

    Ngāhuia completed her doctoral research at Waikato, examining native women's ceremonial arts in Aotearoa, Hawaii and the two Turtle Island areas of Canada and North America. She is a recipient of numerous awards including The Health Research Council — New Zealand Māori PhD Scholarship and the Sir Hugh Kawharu Auckland War Memorial Museum Award. Ngāhuia is committed to decolonisation and the reactivation of traditional spiritualities that celebrate the divine feminine.

    Yeah…settle down…

    She has published two books, Waiwhero — A Celebration of Womanhood, and Te Awa Atua — Menstruation in the Pre-colonial Māori World, which you can purchase and get signed at the break, which is after this. So Ngāhuia will sign some books at the break coming up, as well as this afternoon further on.

    So, hōmai te pakipaki māna.

    Dr Ngāhuia Murphy: Tauārai ki te pō, tītoko ki te ao mārama;Tihei Māuri ora.
    Ko Rangi kei runga ko Papa kei raro;
    Ka rere arorangi aku mihi ki ngā maunga tapu;
    Ka hura haere aku mihi ki ngā noninga kumu;
    Ki ngā wai tukunga kiri, ki ngā tūtohu whenua, ki ngā wāhi tapu, ki ngā tara iti, ki Te Ūpoko o Te Ika;
    Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou.
    Ngā mate kei runga i a tātau, ka tangi ā-ngākau atu nei ki a koutou;
    Haere ki tō tātau tipuna kuia a Hine-whakapau-tāngata-ki-te-pō;
    Koutou ki a kouotu, tātau e hui mai nei tēnā, tēnā tātau.
    Tāne Whakapiripiri tēnā koe. Ngā kaiwhakahaere o tēnei hui e mihi ana ki a koutou. Ki a koe Celia tēnā koe. Ngā kaikōrero o te ahiahi nei e mihi ana ki a koutou.
    Ani, holy heck, taku tino idol tērā.

    Tae atu ki a koutou e rau taniwha mai nei i runga i te karanga o te rā, o te mana me te tapu o te awa atua, o te whare tangata, mauri ora ki te whare tangata; nō reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, ko tātau tēnā.

    Taku kuia, ko Panekire te maunga, ko Waikare te moana, ko Ngāti Ruapani te iwi. Taku koroua, ko Tāwhiuau te maunga, ko Rangitāiki te awa, ko Ngati Manawa te iwi. Ko Ngāhuia Murphy tōku ingoa.

    Kia huri ki te reo inaianei ki te reo tuarua. Kia ora tātau.

    So um hey everyone, it’s a real, it’s a real honour to be here, and always a really humbling experience to share the stage with Ani Mikaere, whose work The Balance Destroyed, I think I was about 20 or 21 when I read it, and it just, it just rocked my world, it was just one of the most important works that we have – The Balance Destroyed.

    And so… to share the stage with her is a real honour, and also to have one of our most formidable and precious freedom fighters here with us today, that's Moana Jay (Jackson) in the front row, I'm quite intimidated.

    So it's no small thing, it's no small thing given what Ani has talked about, it's no small thing for us to gather in this way to talk about the mana and tapu of the whare tangata me te awa atua. It's no small thing for us as Māori women to gather to talk about the tapu kōrero about our own bodies because of the colonial history and the censorship and the use of violence to crush the knowledges and the traditions that venerate the whare tangata the central significance of the whare tangata.

    And it's important because the thing is that we are the mauri of the people, so if we are oppressed, if Māori women are oppressed, if our mana is subordinated…it impacts on the entire iwi. If our mana is celebrated, then that impacts the entire iwi, yeah..

    ‘He wahine he whenua e ngaro ai te tangata’ — ‘Without the land and woman, humanity would be extinguished’.

    So I'm going to be talking just a little bit about my master's research Te Awa Atua, and my PhD – Te ahi tawhito te ahi tipua te ahi nā Mahuika, and some of the kōrero that's come out of that. I think one of the biggest revelations through that research process was the understanding that…and some of my teachers and some of my old people, they've always said to me that our society was matriarchal, and I have come to see and I believe that in my heart, that we were, that we were matriarchal. If you look at our ritual histories, men knew that their own mana was directly related but came from the whare tangata, because that's the house of their own origins in the world, and so warriors and weaponry were named after mothers and grandmothers to celebrate their status and to increase their own mana and tapu, and what I've been told is that the rangatira lines come down the kuia side, the ara tamawahine side in Aotearoa as it does in other places across Polynesia.

    So, with my master's thesis I wanted us to look at how our tipuna saw menstruation, because I didn't believe this idea that we saw the blood as being paru because of the central significance, because of our kōrero around the significance of the whare tangata. So I looked through karakia, mōteatea and our cosmological stories looking for the whakapapa kōrero, looking for the origins, how our tīpuna conceived where the blood came from, the ancient names that would unlock the ways that our tīpuna saw the blood, and I went through the colonial ethnographic and historic accounts too to see what they wrote and of course the two things are very very different.

    So the oldest of the origin stories that I found with this was this one recorded by Nepia Pōhuhu, Ngāti Kahungunu tohunga, who talked about during the seventh cycle of te pō, te pō tiwhatiwha, the river of power, te awa atua emerged as Papatūānuku was ripening into her power as a creatress within the pō, and so it was the blood that assured the conception and birth of the whole pantheon of atua. So the blood that we bleed today is the same blood that birthed the pantheon of atua, and so to understand that the blood connects us to our whānau, the atua, to our atuatanga, to our creation stories. To understand it is that, if we see it today as paru, it's incredibly offensive, because it connects us to them, to our atuatanga.

    According to what Nepia, to his account, Tāne discovered a whole new world beyond the primordial womb of the pō by riding out of te pō and into te ao mārama on the menstrual tide of his mother Papatūānuku. So this is a depiction of that story by the Te Arawa artist, Regan Balzer, and so some of the ancient names for the blood ‘Atua’, ‘Awa Atua’ and ‘Rerenga Atua’, the blood is a medium between worlds and a medium of atua, which is why it was used across a spectrum of rites, and when I looked at those rites over and over again, it was about protection, the power of purification, the power of woman to purify not pollute, and what's really amazing to me is that in some of our ancient rites we're using the blood, we're anointing the blood to purify, to clear obstructions, to clear mākutu.

    And the colonisers had something like that too, they had a medium that they used for that same purpose, and it was holy water, holy water blessed by male priests under the authority of a of a male sky god. We had the menstrual blood of woman and to me that speaks to the difference between us…yeah.

    This karakia is just, it's so beautiful because it tells us how our tīpuna saw the blood, so it was it was recorded in 1853 by Governor George Grey ‘He whai kanohi me ka pohea’. Even the title of significance, is significant ‘To acquire eyes if one is blinded’. So this karakia was chanted at the arrival of the blood for the very first time and Menarche writes:

    Te ra e hara mai ra,
    Rere kura, rere toro hai
    Te marama e rere mai ra
    Rere kura, rere toro hai,
    Ka whekite
    Ka whekaro, te kahui tupua,
    Nau mai ki waho,
    Te ritorito,
    Te wai whero,
    Tupu te ora,
    He ora, ora.

    The sun arising, coming forth flying
    red, seeking its journey,
    The moon arising, coming forth
    flying red, seeking its journey,
    One sees it dimly for the first time,
    Dimly visible are the company of
    supernatural beings,
    Welcome, come forward;
    The potential for life,
    The menstrual blood;
    Let life grow,
    Life itself, it lives.

    How beautiful is that?

    So the blood, the symbol of the vivacity of life, of life itself akin to the powers of the sun and the moon that move through the sky, a medium of supernatural beings, a medium that assures the continuation of whānau whakapapa lines, and so when it arrived for the very first time it was greeted with reverence and ceremony.

    The interesting thing about it is that the blood represents life, but it also represents death because it represents the death of an ancestor returning back to Papatūānuku, and it also represents regeneration and the promise of renewal, the cosmogonic milestones; birth, death, and renewal ko te whare tangata tēnā. You know …and you see that cycle that same cycle and the waxing and waning moon the movement of Hine-te-iwaiwa each month.

    You see it in the seasons of the earth, she goes through her cycles from summer into autumn and winter, and she's reborn again in the spring. Those cosmogonic milestones are captured in the ceremony of the whare tangata, which is why that blood was used so powerfully in our ritual histories, because it could clear, could purify, could neutralize, could overwhelm mākutu and any other force because it represents those cosmogonic milestones. And here's an example, this is a beautiful one this was composed by the tipuna kuia Parewahaika from Tūhourangi, Te Arawa.

    Tēnei te waiwhero te paheke i raro rā
    Hei whakamatara mō te hunga mākutu

    Here is the blood flowing below
    To keep the sorcerers at a distance

    Clearing, clearing and neutralising mākutu just like karanga on the marae ātea, if there's any crap on the marae ātea the karanga will clear it. Just like if you've been to the koroneihana and you see two kuia sitting on either side of Kiingi Tūheitia, they’re sitting there, and what's been explained to me, what they're doing through the power of the tara, through the power of the whare tangata, is clearing, clearing any crap flying around on the marae ātea.

    Just like when we go into the whare tipuna we go under the pare, we go on some whare tipuna, what do you see on the doorway? What do you see up there on the pare when you go under? What do you see? You see the tara, you see the tara and you go under, and if there's any crap flying around she will purify it, because she's the doorway between worlds, she facilitates the transformation of consciousness. And when you step through the door of the whare tipuna into the house, you're stepping through the whakawai of Papatūānuku, the open legs, you step through and you're purified, and that is the role of woman, to purify and facilitate the transformation of states of consciousness.

    You see it over and over again in the traditional… you know in our ritual histories, the power of the blood, the power of the tara, like the ancient whakanoa rites, where when we went to… warriors went to battle they would step under the legs, they would step between the legs, crawl between the legs of woman to whakatapu, and then when they got back they would step back again through the legs of woman to lift that tapu and whakanoa, and this is this is something that Ani wrote about all those years ago, the power of the Māori woman to traverse across the entire continuum of tapu and noa, to move backwards and forwards. Why? Because of that ceremony of the womb, the power of birth, death and renewal — we can move fluidly across the spectrum no problem.

    One of the things that came up in my PhD was if the menstrual blood, te awa atua, is a is a medium of whakapapa, a symbol of whakapapa, if it's a ceremony of purification and renewal, which it is, and it's always been that so our woman would rest during that time, and you can imagine the significance of that in communal society. Women, women who lived together…what happens? We bleed together! So can you imagine when we're…when te awa atua arrives, for half the population we're taking the time out to rest with the support of our men folk, who knew,who knew the central significance of the whare tangata to honour it and to acknowledge it, is to increase their own mana in the world.

    That's why you have these beautiful kōrero of warriors and weaponry named after mothers and grandmothers, because those warriors knew that it increased their own tapu. So in Tūhoe we have Te Tokotoru-a-Paewhiti, the three warriors of Paewhiti. She was their mum and Ngā toitoi a Paewhiti the hackers and cutters, the assassins of Paewhiti, but today one of the things like I said that's coming out of one of the kōrero that came out of my PhD is if the blood is a medium of whakapapa that connects us to our atua, if it's a ceremony of purification and renewal, what can we release on the flow of blood each month if we work with that blood in a sacred way?

    And some women talked about if the whare tangata houses intergenerational trauma, then she also has the capacity to clear it and release it through the whakapapa line. So, the idea of working with the blood to shed not only personal obstacles but clearing through the whakapapa line. This is another example of te awa atua in our ritual history, a lament for Papaka Te Naeroa, composed by Te Heuheu the second Tukina Ngati Tuwharetoa:

    Taku wai whakatahetahe
    Ki te kauhanga a riri
    He riianga tai, he rutunga patu

    That whakatahetahe, the waters of life. So the way that our tīpuna saw the blood it’s in the names ‘te awa atua’, ‘te rerenga atua’, ‘atua’, ‘wai tahe’– the waters of life, ‘waikura’ the sacred precious red medium ‘wai o rona’, ‘Īkura’.

    So this one...

    All in vain was my menstrual offering
    At the altar to smooth the way in battle
    The ocean was defied, when weapons were held on high.

    So here we have the laying of that precious blood to clear. Laying the blood pre-battle at the altar, and war to clear obstructions, to open the way, to clear any psychic obstructions heading into battle, because first and foremost battle was on the wairua, it was spiritual. That's why,thats why when you look at our histories it's the women that conducted the war rites, they were on the battlefield, their prophecies, their rituals were used to shape the battle strategies over and over again, yet today…how many of us… how many of us have seen women karakia publicly? How many of us have seen women karakia publicly?

    Very few, because it's assumed that that's the role of men. But when you look at our histories that is not the case, and it's such a rort that we've come to believe that, so we go to these events i roto i te ao Māori and there's no female counterpart in the karakia, and like I said at the very beginning, the consequences of silencing the whare tangata impacts us all, because we are the mauri of the people.

    So, one of the kōrero too that came out of my PhD was that just like…so this one here called ‘Ko te tangi mō Tūwhakararo te rangatira o Taranaki’

    Kore wai whero
    Kia utuhia
    Hei wai kana hoeroa mā Rautao.

    A menstrual cloth
    Shall return
    As a weapon bewitching fluid for Rautao.

    So here is the taking of that sacred blood to an anointing weaponry, so Rautao is the weapon, the weapon hoeroa, the blood is being used to anoint the weapon and I think increase its, increase its tapu, increase its mauri, so it'll be even more effective.

    So today the idea that the blood as a, as a raw potent… as the fire of the womb, of the mother Papatūānuku, as a raw potent medium that connects us to our atua, the power, the power, that power to increase, and make more potent. Some women today when they bleed…there's a real revival happening here in in Aotearoa and in Hawaii, and the people that I was with in Turtle Island to reclaim and reactivate our ancestral rites around the blood, and one of the kōrero that came out was that some women, every month when they bleed, they're bleeding directly onto the whenua and with the understanding that when they return that blood to papa it increases her mauri and feeds her mauri in a time of ecological collapse.

    Yes…yeah…yeah it is cool…yeah.

    But you know the power of the blood to clear, to clear mākutu, to clear the way, to neutralise obstacles,all that is directly related, it's a continuation of how our tīpuna saw the tara. Our women led war parties, they led muru plundering parties, and they led them naked.How extreme, how startling, they lead them naked and their naked bodies increased the tapu of the war party.

    They would recite their karakia on the front line of battle and raise the frequency to the climactic point the zenith of power before unleashing the war party on the enemy. Their naked bodies on the front line neutralized any mākutu or crap flying around, but it also, they were the most… they were the most dangerous person on the battlefield because they embodied Hine-nui-te-pō, there's no one more formidable than that.

    Oh shucks, okay I'm running out of time.

    This is Ani Mikaere, she called it years ago, she says exposure of the tara is a ‘graphic way of reminding the men of the ultimate supremacy of female strength. They are shown the pathway to life and death, and are reminded that if they ignore or deny the power of female sexuality, they do they do so at their peril.’
    And so one of the old names for the tara is ‘Tewhatewha’ yes… she will annihilate those that transgress sacred laws, so our creation story, our cosmological stories tell us Māui and Hine-nui-te-pō later with Hina and Kae that in times of transgression of sacred laws around whakapapa and whanaungatanga, it is women that will lead the restoration of balance.

    That's why women led those muru plundering parties, and if you look it our… if you look at the Tino Rangatiratanga movement, you'll see that it is women that have led those movements. Today we see it at Ihumātao with Pania Newton and I just love how… I just find it so refreshing that they are really uncompromising in their stand to protect their sacred whenua, they won't negotiate about it… so over negotiation… having to give, give, give.

    What I've seen in my mahi over the years is this idea that… that in our own histories, but also around the world, the opening and closing tara is a ritual motif. She holds the power to create, destroy, bless, protect, purify, repel, renew, and facilitate a change in consciousness’ s what Ani describes as a ‘transitional zone’, the tara between one world and another, between te ao kikokiko and te ao wairua.

    So, I'm wrapping up, starting to wrap up now.

    Te Miringa Hohaia, the historian from Parihaka, he loved Ani's work, when I first started out researching Te Awa Atua 10 years ago I asked him who I should go and talk to, and he, his… the first name off his lips was “Ani” he loved The Balance Destroyed and he said to me that because he had the Kaahui Kararehe manuscripts, and he said that what Ani wrote there, it was consistent with what he found in the karakiatanga, whakapapatanga kōrero, he says to me ‘the 19th century Te Kaahui Kararehe manuscript is consistently clear that the most prestigious lines of descent are those beginning from leading women of the tribe’. Even when significant male ancestors are being presented, the whakapapa returns back to that man's ara tamawahine line of descent. The explanations or whakapapatanga kōrero were always the same, here's an example:

    ‘Ko Te Rangihatuake, he ariki nui noo teenei iwi o Taranaki, aa, he uri anoo noo roto i te kete ngee o toona kuia nei, o Ueroa’

    ‘Te kete ngee’ being the matriarchal gene pool the male line was never presented in any way comparable to this. This is where mana came from, this was where the tribe placed its pride. Not in the man, but in his kuia. That really sums up the journey…my research journey over the last few years…so I just want to close with a beautiful karakia, one of my favourites…

    Hiahia te rangi, hiahia te mana.
    Purutia te ao, takapaua te ao
    kia hauhaurongo, kia maungarongo,
    ki a Papatūānuku, ki a Rongomaraeroa e takoto nei.
    I a e.

    The deepest desire of the cosmos, is for peace to encloak the earth, and the female principle, this is about the restoration of balance.

    So kia ora tātou thank you for having me.

    Any errors with the transcript, let us know and we will fix them — digital-services@dia.govt.nz

Transcript

Speakers

Cellia Joe, Dr Ngāhuia Murphy

Cellia Joe: Nō Ngāti Manawa, nō Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana, Ngāi Tūhoe me Ngāti Kahungunu a Ngāhuia.

Ngāhuia is a Kaupapa Māori researcher, educator, writer and presenter. Ngāhuia and her ground breaking study of Māori pre-colonial stories, ceremonies and practices regarding menstruation, led to the Waikato University Masters Research Award.

Ngāhuia completed her doctoral research at Waikato, examining native women's ceremonial arts in Aotearoa, Hawaii and the two Turtle Island areas of Canada and North America. She is a recipient of numerous awards including The Health Research Council — New Zealand Māori PhD Scholarship and the Sir Hugh Kawharu Auckland War Memorial Museum Award. Ngāhuia is committed to decolonisation and the reactivation of traditional spiritualities that celebrate the divine feminine.

Yeah…settle down…

She has published two books, Waiwhero — A Celebration of Womanhood, and Te Awa Atua — Menstruation in the Pre-colonial Māori World, which you can purchase and get signed at the break, which is after this. So Ngāhuia will sign some books at the break coming up, as well as this afternoon further on.

So, hōmai te pakipaki māna.

Dr Ngāhuia Murphy: Tauārai ki te pō, tītoko ki te ao mārama;Tihei Māuri ora.
Ko Rangi kei runga ko Papa kei raro;
Ka rere arorangi aku mihi ki ngā maunga tapu;
Ka hura haere aku mihi ki ngā noninga kumu;
Ki ngā wai tukunga kiri, ki ngā tūtohu whenua, ki ngā wāhi tapu, ki ngā tara iti, ki Te Ūpoko o Te Ika;
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou.
Ngā mate kei runga i a tātau, ka tangi ā-ngākau atu nei ki a koutou;
Haere ki tō tātau tipuna kuia a Hine-whakapau-tāngata-ki-te-pō;
Koutou ki a kouotu, tātau e hui mai nei tēnā, tēnā tātau.
Tāne Whakapiripiri tēnā koe. Ngā kaiwhakahaere o tēnei hui e mihi ana ki a koutou. Ki a koe Celia tēnā koe. Ngā kaikōrero o te ahiahi nei e mihi ana ki a koutou.
Ani, holy heck, taku tino idol tērā.

Tae atu ki a koutou e rau taniwha mai nei i runga i te karanga o te rā, o te mana me te tapu o te awa atua, o te whare tangata, mauri ora ki te whare tangata; nō reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, ko tātau tēnā.

Taku kuia, ko Panekire te maunga, ko Waikare te moana, ko Ngāti Ruapani te iwi. Taku koroua, ko Tāwhiuau te maunga, ko Rangitāiki te awa, ko Ngati Manawa te iwi. Ko Ngāhuia Murphy tōku ingoa.

Kia huri ki te reo inaianei ki te reo tuarua. Kia ora tātau.

So um hey everyone, it’s a real, it’s a real honour to be here, and always a really humbling experience to share the stage with Ani Mikaere, whose work The Balance Destroyed, I think I was about 20 or 21 when I read it, and it just, it just rocked my world, it was just one of the most important works that we have – The Balance Destroyed.

And so… to share the stage with her is a real honour, and also to have one of our most formidable and precious freedom fighters here with us today, that's Moana Jay (Jackson) in the front row, I'm quite intimidated.

So it's no small thing, it's no small thing given what Ani has talked about, it's no small thing for us to gather in this way to talk about the mana and tapu of the whare tangata me te awa atua. It's no small thing for us as Māori women to gather to talk about the tapu kōrero about our own bodies because of the colonial history and the censorship and the use of violence to crush the knowledges and the traditions that venerate the whare tangata the central significance of the whare tangata.

And it's important because the thing is that we are the mauri of the people, so if we are oppressed, if Māori women are oppressed, if our mana is subordinated…it impacts on the entire iwi. If our mana is celebrated, then that impacts the entire iwi, yeah..

‘He wahine he whenua e ngaro ai te tangata’ — ‘Without the land and woman, humanity would be extinguished’.

So I'm going to be talking just a little bit about my master's research Te Awa Atua, and my PhD – Te ahi tawhito te ahi tipua te ahi nā Mahuika, and some of the kōrero that's come out of that. I think one of the biggest revelations through that research process was the understanding that…and some of my teachers and some of my old people, they've always said to me that our society was matriarchal, and I have come to see and I believe that in my heart, that we were, that we were matriarchal. If you look at our ritual histories, men knew that their own mana was directly related but came from the whare tangata, because that's the house of their own origins in the world, and so warriors and weaponry were named after mothers and grandmothers to celebrate their status and to increase their own mana and tapu, and what I've been told is that the rangatira lines come down the kuia side, the ara tamawahine side in Aotearoa as it does in other places across Polynesia.

So, with my master's thesis I wanted us to look at how our tipuna saw menstruation, because I didn't believe this idea that we saw the blood as being paru because of the central significance, because of our kōrero around the significance of the whare tangata. So I looked through karakia, mōteatea and our cosmological stories looking for the whakapapa kōrero, looking for the origins, how our tīpuna conceived where the blood came from, the ancient names that would unlock the ways that our tīpuna saw the blood, and I went through the colonial ethnographic and historic accounts too to see what they wrote and of course the two things are very very different.

So the oldest of the origin stories that I found with this was this one recorded by Nepia Pōhuhu, Ngāti Kahungunu tohunga, who talked about during the seventh cycle of te pō, te pō tiwhatiwha, the river of power, te awa atua emerged as Papatūānuku was ripening into her power as a creatress within the pō, and so it was the blood that assured the conception and birth of the whole pantheon of atua. So the blood that we bleed today is the same blood that birthed the pantheon of atua, and so to understand that the blood connects us to our whānau, the atua, to our atuatanga, to our creation stories. To understand it is that, if we see it today as paru, it's incredibly offensive, because it connects us to them, to our atuatanga.

According to what Nepia, to his account, Tāne discovered a whole new world beyond the primordial womb of the pō by riding out of te pō and into te ao mārama on the menstrual tide of his mother Papatūānuku. So this is a depiction of that story by the Te Arawa artist, Regan Balzer, and so some of the ancient names for the blood ‘Atua’, ‘Awa Atua’ and ‘Rerenga Atua’, the blood is a medium between worlds and a medium of atua, which is why it was used across a spectrum of rites, and when I looked at those rites over and over again, it was about protection, the power of purification, the power of woman to purify not pollute, and what's really amazing to me is that in some of our ancient rites we're using the blood, we're anointing the blood to purify, to clear obstructions, to clear mākutu.

And the colonisers had something like that too, they had a medium that they used for that same purpose, and it was holy water, holy water blessed by male priests under the authority of a of a male sky god. We had the menstrual blood of woman and to me that speaks to the difference between us…yeah.

This karakia is just, it's so beautiful because it tells us how our tīpuna saw the blood, so it was it was recorded in 1853 by Governor George Grey ‘He whai kanohi me ka pohea’. Even the title of significance, is significant ‘To acquire eyes if one is blinded’. So this karakia was chanted at the arrival of the blood for the very first time and Menarche writes:

Te ra e hara mai ra,
Rere kura, rere toro hai
Te marama e rere mai ra
Rere kura, rere toro hai,
Ka whekite
Ka whekaro, te kahui tupua,
Nau mai ki waho,
Te ritorito,
Te wai whero,
Tupu te ora,
He ora, ora.

The sun arising, coming forth flying
red, seeking its journey,
The moon arising, coming forth
flying red, seeking its journey,
One sees it dimly for the first time,
Dimly visible are the company of
supernatural beings,
Welcome, come forward;
The potential for life,
The menstrual blood;
Let life grow,
Life itself, it lives.

How beautiful is that?

So the blood, the symbol of the vivacity of life, of life itself akin to the powers of the sun and the moon that move through the sky, a medium of supernatural beings, a medium that assures the continuation of whānau whakapapa lines, and so when it arrived for the very first time it was greeted with reverence and ceremony.

The interesting thing about it is that the blood represents life, but it also represents death because it represents the death of an ancestor returning back to Papatūānuku, and it also represents regeneration and the promise of renewal, the cosmogonic milestones; birth, death, and renewal ko te whare tangata tēnā. You know …and you see that cycle that same cycle and the waxing and waning moon the movement of Hine-te-iwaiwa each month.

You see it in the seasons of the earth, she goes through her cycles from summer into autumn and winter, and she's reborn again in the spring. Those cosmogonic milestones are captured in the ceremony of the whare tangata, which is why that blood was used so powerfully in our ritual histories, because it could clear, could purify, could neutralize, could overwhelm mākutu and any other force because it represents those cosmogonic milestones. And here's an example, this is a beautiful one this was composed by the tipuna kuia Parewahaika from Tūhourangi, Te Arawa.

Tēnei te waiwhero te paheke i raro rā
Hei whakamatara mō te hunga mākutu

Here is the blood flowing below
To keep the sorcerers at a distance

Clearing, clearing and neutralising mākutu just like karanga on the marae ātea, if there's any crap on the marae ātea the karanga will clear it. Just like if you've been to the koroneihana and you see two kuia sitting on either side of Kiingi Tūheitia, they’re sitting there, and what's been explained to me, what they're doing through the power of the tara, through the power of the whare tangata, is clearing, clearing any crap flying around on the marae ātea.

Just like when we go into the whare tipuna we go under the pare, we go on some whare tipuna, what do you see on the doorway? What do you see up there on the pare when you go under? What do you see? You see the tara, you see the tara and you go under, and if there's any crap flying around she will purify it, because she's the doorway between worlds, she facilitates the transformation of consciousness. And when you step through the door of the whare tipuna into the house, you're stepping through the whakawai of Papatūānuku, the open legs, you step through and you're purified, and that is the role of woman, to purify and facilitate the transformation of states of consciousness.

You see it over and over again in the traditional… you know in our ritual histories, the power of the blood, the power of the tara, like the ancient whakanoa rites, where when we went to… warriors went to battle they would step under the legs, they would step between the legs, crawl between the legs of woman to whakatapu, and then when they got back they would step back again through the legs of woman to lift that tapu and whakanoa, and this is this is something that Ani wrote about all those years ago, the power of the Māori woman to traverse across the entire continuum of tapu and noa, to move backwards and forwards. Why? Because of that ceremony of the womb, the power of birth, death and renewal — we can move fluidly across the spectrum no problem.

One of the things that came up in my PhD was if the menstrual blood, te awa atua, is a is a medium of whakapapa, a symbol of whakapapa, if it's a ceremony of purification and renewal, which it is, and it's always been that so our woman would rest during that time, and you can imagine the significance of that in communal society. Women, women who lived together…what happens? We bleed together! So can you imagine when we're…when te awa atua arrives, for half the population we're taking the time out to rest with the support of our men folk, who knew,who knew the central significance of the whare tangata to honour it and to acknowledge it, is to increase their own mana in the world.

That's why you have these beautiful kōrero of warriors and weaponry named after mothers and grandmothers, because those warriors knew that it increased their own tapu. So in Tūhoe we have Te Tokotoru-a-Paewhiti, the three warriors of Paewhiti. She was their mum and Ngā toitoi a Paewhiti the hackers and cutters, the assassins of Paewhiti, but today one of the things like I said that's coming out of one of the kōrero that came out of my PhD is if the blood is a medium of whakapapa that connects us to our atua, if it's a ceremony of purification and renewal, what can we release on the flow of blood each month if we work with that blood in a sacred way?

And some women talked about if the whare tangata houses intergenerational trauma, then she also has the capacity to clear it and release it through the whakapapa line. So, the idea of working with the blood to shed not only personal obstacles but clearing through the whakapapa line. This is another example of te awa atua in our ritual history, a lament for Papaka Te Naeroa, composed by Te Heuheu the second Tukina Ngati Tuwharetoa:

Taku wai whakatahetahe
Ki te kauhanga a riri
He riianga tai, he rutunga patu

That whakatahetahe, the waters of life. So the way that our tīpuna saw the blood it’s in the names ‘te awa atua’, ‘te rerenga atua’, ‘atua’, ‘wai tahe’– the waters of life, ‘waikura’ the sacred precious red medium ‘wai o rona’, ‘Īkura’.

So this one...

All in vain was my menstrual offering
At the altar to smooth the way in battle
The ocean was defied, when weapons were held on high.

So here we have the laying of that precious blood to clear. Laying the blood pre-battle at the altar, and war to clear obstructions, to open the way, to clear any psychic obstructions heading into battle, because first and foremost battle was on the wairua, it was spiritual. That's why,thats why when you look at our histories it's the women that conducted the war rites, they were on the battlefield, their prophecies, their rituals were used to shape the battle strategies over and over again, yet today…how many of us… how many of us have seen women karakia publicly? How many of us have seen women karakia publicly?

Very few, because it's assumed that that's the role of men. But when you look at our histories that is not the case, and it's such a rort that we've come to believe that, so we go to these events i roto i te ao Māori and there's no female counterpart in the karakia, and like I said at the very beginning, the consequences of silencing the whare tangata impacts us all, because we are the mauri of the people.

So, one of the kōrero too that came out of my PhD was that just like…so this one here called ‘Ko te tangi mō Tūwhakararo te rangatira o Taranaki’

Kore wai whero
Kia utuhia
Hei wai kana hoeroa mā Rautao.

A menstrual cloth
Shall return
As a weapon bewitching fluid for Rautao.

So here is the taking of that sacred blood to an anointing weaponry, so Rautao is the weapon, the weapon hoeroa, the blood is being used to anoint the weapon and I think increase its, increase its tapu, increase its mauri, so it'll be even more effective.

So today the idea that the blood as a, as a raw potent… as the fire of the womb, of the mother Papatūānuku, as a raw potent medium that connects us to our atua, the power, the power, that power to increase, and make more potent. Some women today when they bleed…there's a real revival happening here in in Aotearoa and in Hawaii, and the people that I was with in Turtle Island to reclaim and reactivate our ancestral rites around the blood, and one of the kōrero that came out was that some women, every month when they bleed, they're bleeding directly onto the whenua and with the understanding that when they return that blood to papa it increases her mauri and feeds her mauri in a time of ecological collapse.

Yes…yeah…yeah it is cool…yeah.

But you know the power of the blood to clear, to clear mākutu, to clear the way, to neutralise obstacles,all that is directly related, it's a continuation of how our tīpuna saw the tara. Our women led war parties, they led muru plundering parties, and they led them naked.How extreme, how startling, they lead them naked and their naked bodies increased the tapu of the war party.

They would recite their karakia on the front line of battle and raise the frequency to the climactic point the zenith of power before unleashing the war party on the enemy. Their naked bodies on the front line neutralized any mākutu or crap flying around, but it also, they were the most… they were the most dangerous person on the battlefield because they embodied Hine-nui-te-pō, there's no one more formidable than that.

Oh shucks, okay I'm running out of time.

This is Ani Mikaere, she called it years ago, she says exposure of the tara is a ‘graphic way of reminding the men of the ultimate supremacy of female strength. They are shown the pathway to life and death, and are reminded that if they ignore or deny the power of female sexuality, they do they do so at their peril.’
And so one of the old names for the tara is ‘Tewhatewha’ yes… she will annihilate those that transgress sacred laws, so our creation story, our cosmological stories tell us Māui and Hine-nui-te-pō later with Hina and Kae that in times of transgression of sacred laws around whakapapa and whanaungatanga, it is women that will lead the restoration of balance.

That's why women led those muru plundering parties, and if you look it our… if you look at the Tino Rangatiratanga movement, you'll see that it is women that have led those movements. Today we see it at Ihumātao with Pania Newton and I just love how… I just find it so refreshing that they are really uncompromising in their stand to protect their sacred whenua, they won't negotiate about it… so over negotiation… having to give, give, give.

What I've seen in my mahi over the years is this idea that… that in our own histories, but also around the world, the opening and closing tara is a ritual motif. She holds the power to create, destroy, bless, protect, purify, repel, renew, and facilitate a change in consciousness’ s what Ani describes as a ‘transitional zone’, the tara between one world and another, between te ao kikokiko and te ao wairua.

So, I'm wrapping up, starting to wrap up now.

Te Miringa Hohaia, the historian from Parihaka, he loved Ani's work, when I first started out researching Te Awa Atua 10 years ago I asked him who I should go and talk to, and he, his… the first name off his lips was “Ani” he loved The Balance Destroyed and he said to me that because he had the Kaahui Kararehe manuscripts, and he said that what Ani wrote there, it was consistent with what he found in the karakiatanga, whakapapatanga kōrero, he says to me ‘the 19th century Te Kaahui Kararehe manuscript is consistently clear that the most prestigious lines of descent are those beginning from leading women of the tribe’. Even when significant male ancestors are being presented, the whakapapa returns back to that man's ara tamawahine line of descent. The explanations or whakapapatanga kōrero were always the same, here's an example:

‘Ko Te Rangihatuake, he ariki nui noo teenei iwi o Taranaki, aa, he uri anoo noo roto i te kete ngee o toona kuia nei, o Ueroa’

‘Te kete ngee’ being the matriarchal gene pool the male line was never presented in any way comparable to this. This is where mana came from, this was where the tribe placed its pride. Not in the man, but in his kuia. That really sums up the journey…my research journey over the last few years…so I just want to close with a beautiful karakia, one of my favourites…

Hiahia te rangi, hiahia te mana.
Purutia te ao, takapaua te ao
kia hauhaurongo, kia maungarongo,
ki a Papatūānuku, ki a Rongomaraeroa e takoto nei.
I a e.

The deepest desire of the cosmos, is for peace to encloak the earth, and the female principle, this is about the restoration of balance.

So kia ora tātou thank you for having me.

Any errors with the transcript, let us know and we will fix them — digital-services@dia.govt.nz


Celebrating Suffrage month

As part of the celebrations for Suffrage month in September, the National Library Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, will bring together entrepreneurs, thinkers, performers and historians for a transformative event called ‘Tapu: Te Awa Atua and the reclamation of Mana Wahine’.

Kōrero, performance and workshopping on the topic of Te Awa Atua (The Sacred River)

The event will comprise a dynamic afternoon of kōrero, performance and workshopping on the topic of Te Awa Atua (The Sacred River), the tapu process of the menstrual cycle.

Through the lens of te ao Māori we will explore the historical and colonial context, experiences of tupuna, Mareikura (Māori goddesses) and contemporary practices and initiatives which help Aotearoa’s mana wahine reclaim their bodies and traditional practices as they relate to te awa atua. Through conversation around these issues we aim to reclaim, demystify and decolonise issues related to women’s bodies and to discover new and ancient ways to care for, cherish and celebrate them.

There will be refreshments and a book signing with Ngahuia Murphy author of Te Awa Atua: Menstruation in the pre-colonial Maori World. The newly opened exhibition Pūkana: Moments in Māori Performance will also be open to view before, during the break and after the event.

Visit our pop-up exhibition of Tapu: Te Awa Atua posters and an installation by Yoobee School of Design students and our Tapu commissioned artwork by Robyn Kahukiwa.

Empowering women

By reflecting on the ways in which attitudes to women’s bodies and menstruation have shaped the way women see themselves and their value, we aim to empower women, especially young, indigenous and minority women, to talk about these issues while considering history, Papatuanuku, period poverty and the creation of new traditions.

Communication and connection are powerful tools and through the sharing of stories and mythology ‘Tapu: Te Awa Atua and the reclamation of Mana Wahine’ will support and engender dialogue, sharing of knowledge and the fostering of mutual understanding across ethnicities, generations, gender and socio-economic groups.

Speakers

  • Stefanie Lash — Curator, He Tohu
  • Ani Mikaere  (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou) — Author of 'Colonising Myths: Māori Realities', 'The Balance Destroyed' and 'Like Moths to the Flame: A History of Ngāti Raukawa Resistance'
  • Ngahuia Murphy ( Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu) — Author of Te Awa Atua: Menstruation in the pre-colonial Maori World and 'Waiwhero: A celebration of Māori womanhood'
  • Morgana Watson (Te Atiawa, Taranaki Nui Tonu, Te Atihau nui ā Papaarangi, Ngāpuhi) — Director MW Consultancy: Māori Cultural Awareness
  • Komako-Aroha and Whetu-Iti Silver (Ngapuhi - Ngati Pakahi ki Whangaroa) — Creators of HINE a ritual practise and performance work.
  • Jacinta Gulasekharam — Co-Founder, Dignity
  • Michele Wilson — Founder of 'I am Eva Period Underwear'
  • Olie Body — Founder, Wā Collective
  • MC. Moana Ormsby (Ngāti Porou, Tūhoe, Maniapoto. Kaiwhakaako) — National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Ngahuia Murphy
Image: Presenter Dr Ngahuia Murphy (Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu)