Mataariki Puapua.

By Maakarita Paku
Jun 2016

The Winter Solstice is upon us, Mataariki Puapua the starlight Morning Star constellation aligned, graces our skies with a magnificent blessing bringing forth the   Māori New Year on the new full moon.

Mataariki Puapua e tiaho iho nei                        

ngā mata tāpuapua i te rangi                                 

Mataariki ahunga nui i te tau hou                        

Nau mai hoki mai!                                                   

Brilliant Morning Star

Seven sisters, gemmed faces, sparkling splendours clustering in the heavens

 Beacon of the heavens heralding the return of the Māori New Year

We give thanks to all our loved ones, departed and present.  We reflect, acknowledge, and celebrate life and death during these coldest months of the year.  We let go and embrace, bringing clarity and most of all a renewed hope for the future.

Mataariki Puapua is ‘She With Women’ an affirmation to all women with child at this special time of year under the mantle of the Morning Star.  Through her guiding light as matriarch of cosmic birthing with the stars, we are reminded of the ancient’s appearance in the South Pacific signalling the next cycle of renewal in rotation.

Great regrowth is fostered carefully across ancient communities where the rhythm of birth has already begun and never ends, synchronizing the female vessel of te whare tangata (womb).  Within this nurturing environment so uniquely perfected, te ira tangata (human life) transforms creating a path that becomes te aho matua (sacred umbilical thread).

In the 21st century pregnancy and birth is not valued enough in the way it must be.  The greatest human ability is to procreate life and for all mankind te whare tangata is the most sacred of homes, the reason why a woman’s body is so sacred (tapu).[1] To lay within the womb, to be one with your mother’s own life forces and beating heart is where our first school of human potential begins to establish and take form.

Mataariki Puapua in name is magical in its essence, how wonderful it is to be clustered by such ancient stars during our birthing time.  Our bodies and our growing treasures are blessed and anointed by the tidal rushes of the stars, the moon, the sun, the four sacred directions, the earth, the oceans, the heavens and all the elements into one almighty effort.  As voyagers we are navigated by Mataariki She With Women, the beacon through which we ride the sea of life during our birthtime.

When we allow ourselves the peace and patience to be aligned with Mataariki Puapua She With Women, our amniotic waters begin to press and flow with their own gentle forces magnetised by the elements, making a direct passage for our babies to be drawn down.  Forthright into the light through clear intent, power of the mind, spirit, body and loved ones we are able to birth our babies, the whenua (placenta) and whāngai waiū (breastfeed).  By keeping our bodies nurtured and safe we are able to acknowledge and engage in the greater life forces around us which make light of our work and the purpose for which our bodies are uniquely designed for each baby.

Ko Mataariki Puapua te tapuhi, te tatau, te whare tauawhiawhi o te tangata.

To draw on such powerful momentum gathered by the constellation of Mataariki Puapua, She With Women is the doorway to birthing with the stars where we are sheltered and loved.  Encouraged to harness our strengths and overcome our weaknesses because birth is not a disease.

He mana tō te wahine, he mana tō te tāne

Where Māori continue to be undermined, many of our people have become somewhat lost in our birthing traditions.  In some whānau this knowledge has remained hidden or preserved for the time when those who are ready may step forward to reclaim what awaits.  Great strength comes from the power of understanding that women and men likewise have their own integrity and authority, complementary to each other.  We refer to this state as ‘te ira wahine me te ira tāne’.  We are both valued and treasured in our contributions, one of many basic birthrites.  Working together we are ‘te ira tangata’ (the untapped human potential), the manifestations of those who created us.  In te ao Māori, people are our greatest assets and strengths, inherent of who we are.  Birth is not a business nor is it cultural capital to be commodified.

‘He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!’ – Dr. Merimeri Penfold [2]

What is most important of this world? It is people, it is people, it is people!

So, the cycle continues and Mataariki Puapua is the traditional marker of the heavens so that no matter where we are in this world, we can never forget.

From pregnancy to maternity care, birth plans and delivery; our men, sons, brothers, fathers, grandfathers, cousins and even brother in-laws are all inclusive to the roles of birth.  Like Mataariki Puapua our potential expands in every infinite direction throughout the depths of our core being.

From the very beginning we teach our children ‘mahi tahi’ where the first most important activity as a family is learning to work together.  The value of co-operation for an important outcome such as a healthy, safe homebirth or hospital birth.  We also teach ‘tohatoha’ sharing in the responsibilities called upon us during birthtime so that by the time they become parents they have the instruments required to birth and parent successfully.  These are traditional values that unless thought about or considered, become lost in scheduled medicalisation processes and clinical decision making that more than often is disempowering and culturally insensitive.

Henare Kani, husband of Māori midwife, Tungane Kani (creators and leaders of Turanga Kaupapa, Midwifery Standards Review Model for NZCOM) [3] nurtured Adrian and I forward in our understanding of ‘te ira tangata’.  They reminded us of our complementary roles and synergies in giving birth, the blessings of holding space like we do at the marae, in hui and wānanga.

Henare carries the mantle of te ira tangata and te ira tāne as a beacon for our young Māori men who are willing to learn what their roles, responsibilities and duties are for the treasures they have procreated.  He gave confidence, certainty and lead by example, a path for Māori men coming into their own as fathers.  We call this relationship whakawhanaungatanga (strengthening our kinship ties), manaakitanga (reciprocation, giving respite and generosity), kōtahitanga (working in unity and soladarity), katiakitanga (nurturing and protecting those we love) and many other expressions that commune with the sanctity of birth and being human.  He taught us to stand strong in the knowledge and power of tikanga Māori because this is how you can be healthy and grow a healthy whānau.

Traditionally our men folk were midwives too because in te ao Māori this role is not gender specific.  They were also the cooks, the cleaners, the fetchers, the hunters and collectors who partook in all aspects of family life before, during and after delivery.  They weren’t super human because we worked collectively through our traditional hierarchical organisational structures established during the great waka migrations.[4] We practised mahi tahi and tohatoha, sharing resources such as food and utensils, sharing the workload to survive and live effectively.

Our grandfather Hori Rapata (Ngāti Kurī) assisted our grandmother Maakarita Paeara (Ngāti Kahu) with eight homebirths at Tauwhareparae, Uawa on the East Coast from the late 1920s onwards.  There were no services available to them then and they didn’t know anything else.  They all survived and lived well because they never gave up the traditional knowledge they had grown up with.

Women still had specific roles pertaining to ‘te ira wahine’ but were not isolated individually unless under the instruction of their associated ‘pūkenga’ (specialised skill set).  While some tasks were shared, some were specialised to the knowledge bases of ira tāne and ira wahine.  Meaning they were gender lead, due to the sanctity and sacredness of each element, mostly in the application of ceremonial rites as instructed by kaumātua (elders) and/or tohunga (traditional healers/leaders/experts).

When one thinks of the tribulations and triumphs we experience during pregnancy and birth, the most loving act of an inclusive birth between te ira wahine and te ira tāne is in the support, encouragement and hands on energy given that the outcome can only be amazing!  It is this amazing act that urges our babies to transition and ease their way through the birth passage.  Only our loved ones, those we are close to have the power to do this without intervention.  To be born into loving, gentle hands is paramount, a father or grandfather at this moment creates the first bond of human contact from another.  It is the first physical message of communication our babies experience outside of te whare tangata.  This does not however deter also from the birthing mother who may instinctively take her baby straight to her breast.  Baby’s first sensation may be the smell of colostrum followed by the blissful spray of taste sensations on offer.

We waiata oriori (sing/chant/lullaby), karanga (call), karakia (pray) and kōrero (speak) in birth.  The senses of sound, movement, and most of all the voices of those our newborns are familiar with, means that when that first vibration is felt we say ‘rongo’ (to hear or feel).  They will naturally respond to the vibration of mother and father, just as they do when holding them to your ‘poho’ (chest).  This is where they feel the beat of your heart and through association from within te whare tangata, are able to understand instinctively their environment outside of te whare tangata.

My whānau from Ngāi Tūhoe have a big giggle every now and then when we see a child who is,

‘Pihi poho wāwāhi hau’

The little one that will not be separated from the breast/affections of his/her mother

From my Ngāti Kahungunu people we say,

‘Piri pāua’

Glued like a pāua to their mother

These are just some apsects of traditional Māori birth that were valued so highly by our ancestors.  Why would we want to disregard or forget them?

This Mataariki I give gratitude to my Mum Janet Paku; Makareta Moffat, Maru Karatea-Goddard, Hēni Wilson, Annissa Gotty, Tutina Pasene, Merimeri Penfold, Kiripuai Te Aomarere, Te Rangiamōhia Parata, Ropine Cook, Raureka Cook, Raiha Cook and midwives Tungane Kani, Jane & Ana Stojanovic, Lindsay Rowe and Patrisia Gonzalez.

Your love, support and belief that we have great ability to overcome the unknown territories that birth takes us to is never forgotten.  To the men, my love Adrian, sons’ Ngaa Rauuira and Te Ihiroa, the men I remember who have come to our family during our birthings; my father Mike Paku senior, brothers Mike Paku junior, Mahlon Paku and Te Piki Kōtuku Kereama.  You were all at our sides, present, watchful from a distance but always there when we most needed you.

[1] Huata, Te Hiranga o Te Rā 2016

[2] Interview with Dr. Merimeri Penfold. AUT Auckland 2010

[3] N.Z. College of Midwives. Midwives Handbook for Practice 5th Edition 2015

[4] Te Wānanga o Raukawa. The Tasks of The Manager and Administrator in Organising 2014