Te Ira Tāne.

By Maakarita Paku
Nov 2016

Born on the first day of Spring 21 years ago the first name of our second born ‘te ira tāne’ (male born son) Te Ihiroa came to me in a dream 2 months after his arrival.  The tradition of naming our little boy was our own way of determining together our hopes for him, his life and future.

Te Ihi – the intense, power source, energy, self determination

Roa – enduring, unconditional

Oranga – growth, life, consciousness

Whenua – earth, land, placenta


Te Ihiroa Oranga Whenua – he pūkenga o te whānau me te kainga

While there are many ways to read his name, we don’t offer definition.  It is in his own male essence of te ira tāne, that he expresses his own definition, in his own way.  There is however one aspect of his life’s journey so far that should be documented so others might take from it something special to enhance their own journey.  In connection with how menfolk have very important roles to fulfil during the birth of a child, that connection hinges on how one sits in their personal view and outlook of the wider world.   Ihiroa’s view began developing with his first experiences of homebirth from the age of 3.

His schooling of traditional Māori birth in both hospital and homebirth environments has placed him on a pathway to acquiring the information, understanding and experiences that secure as a building block of his foundation as a young adult man.  This is the legacy we his parents aspire to for all our children.


A son who stood by with great fascination and observation, his years of attending the births of his brother and three sisters prepared him for his stance and role in the birth of his fourth sister Heriata Erana Rurehe.  He was 15 years old then and she was our 7th child, an induced labour due to gestational diabetes at what was then Atarangi Maternity Unit at Hastings hospital in 2010.  Then in 2013 his youngest sibling another brother, Inia Manawatāwhi Rangiāio born at home in Napier.  Inia’s homebirth however is another story for another day.

Ensuring all our sons are equipped as strong confident men with mātauranga (knowledge) and tikanga (customs/protocols) meant that it would be up to us their parents to pay attention to all the detail that would see them come in to their own power.  Osmosis is also a traditional teaching and learning technique practised as ‘whakarongo, titiro, kōrero’, listen, watch, and repeat.  Repetition and encouragement nurtures a child’s observational learning which over time becomes second nature.  There are many elements to that learning where given the right opportunities a young boy or adult understands he has been equipped enough to fulfil the tasks at hand and confidently brings all he has learned to fruition as he needs to.

At the time of Heriata’s birth, our lives were very intense, chaotic actually.  Adrian and our eldest son Ngaa Rauuira were on the road to Auckland as my mother and I checked in to Atarangi for the induction.  They were driving to Auckland international airport to intercept documents from Washington D.C. for Ngaa Rauuira’s visa application at the U.S. embassy that same day.  We were in the middle of filming a feature film documentary titled ‘Māori Boy Genius’ whilst challenged with meeting commitments to my partner and son’s admission and travel to Yale University in Connecticut.  I was breathing through panging contractions whilst taking urgent phone calls from corporate sponsors and TV3’s Mihinaarangi Forbes, apologising profusely for the gaps of silence in our telephone conversations.  They were absolutely astonished when I explained why.

Heriata at one day old

My parents are elderly, so Dad was looking after the kids while Mum sat with me.  Anxiety levels were off the roof! Most of all my loved ones were flying out to the U.S.A. in 48 hours and I was having a baby! What if he or she didn’t arrive before then?

When Ihiroa arrived, his presence was instant.  Gentle energy cloaking us with calmness, flashing dimpled smiles.  ‘Te ira tāne’, his male positive brought balance quickly silencing my fraying mind from inconsistent pangs that weren’t progressing.  Heriata was firmly snuggled up high, not moving! He had transferred our very large birthing bundle loaded with taonga (birth tools); crystals, photos, remedies, music, ipu whenua (afterbirth vessel) and whāriki takapau (birth mat) etc.  Going about resetting the birthing suite whilst reciting karakia (prayer) to begin the afternoon afresh with, Ihiroa carefully following my instructions for reclaiming and sealing our room.  My Mum a devoted Catholic, sat watching in the corner, holy water from Lourdes clasped in her hand.  She often splashed us with prayer during significant times of need.

Adrian and I were distressed, he had to stop in Huntly for a sleep and to pick up the phone calls I couldn’t think or talk through anymore.  His cell phone was going flat! Without a word Ihiroa stepped into his father’s shoes, paying close attention to me.  I’ll never forget the connection we had throughout those labouring hours, it makes my heart burst remembering his love and concern for me.  Children no matter what age get OTT excited at a birth, fuelled by fear of the unknown and very vulnerable to the safety and danger of their mother’s well-being.

As the night hours approached, Adrian and Ngaa Rauuira made it in for a visit absolutely exhausted, so all the whānau at that time who were visiting went home to get some rest and await an update of when to come back.  This was a new experience for all of us in a hospital, where sick people go.  It was the first time we had to reconsider our homebirth regime within a hospital environment.  Our daughter Wanea Ana Ngaakau was about 9 years old at the time and decided to stay and be our nurse.  Both her and Ihiroa worked very well with our midwives Lyndsay Rowe and Tungane Kani, sharing in my care and comfort.

Without knowing the extent of colonialism in a historical context of birth, Ihiroa was able to reach out in his own knowing of keeping sacred the processes of Heriata’s transition forward from darkness to light.  He moved instinctively towards the moments that required his utmost attention be it through karakia tawhito (ancient prayer), waiata (song), whakatau (formal welcome), mihimihi (acknowledgement), whakamoemiti (giving thanks).

Avoiding a c-section, standing upright with Lyndsay and Tungane on each side, I turned so Ihiroa could ensure baby’s layers of whāriki takapau were in position to receive her.  The four whāriki of our four daughters.  One woven from Waimahana, a leather birth bundle from Wanea, a linen printed birth blanket from Hehani and a lambskin painted birth mat for Heriata.  Stepping onto the medicine crest of our whāriki, my waters broke with a slight series of drips, an even flow then a gush! A sigh of relief came from all of us with the knowledge she was about to be born.   The warmth of your children’s tingling hands on your labouring body is very soothing.  Their lightness and pure energy dispelled anxiety and fatigue at my limits with crowning, pushing and deep drawn breaths.  Heriata descended quietly and peacefully, born kaahu inā kē (born in the caul), led by the guiding words of her brother, sister and baby catching hands of Tungane and Lyndsay.

For Māori, our ceremonies do not end when the baby is born.  Ihiroa reminded me of our responsibilities to a newborn with his foresight in identifying the important milestones of formality such as; making an offering for Heriata’s first blanket bundling, announcing her as ‘te ira wāhine’ (female born), the clamping and cutting of her umbilical cord, presenting her to me and the whānau, her naming and whakapapa, a closing prayer and acknowledgement to all those who contributed to the work and accomplishments of her safe birth and settling her down for her first sleep in te ao mārama (the world of light).

His tasks were not yet complete, traditionally we teach our sons to attend to the mother they are caring for with her personal and private needs.  It was my son who stayed overnight with us.  He ran the hot shower for me, supporting my transition from one place to the next, laid out clean clothes, gathered my personal toiletries and assisted me with showering, drying off, dressing, and brushing my long hair.  Ihiroa made our room comfortable and sat up with me until I was ready to drop off to sleep.  There were no complaints or hesitations about handling afterbirth matters.  For the following 12 weeks Adrian and Ngaa Rauuira were in the States, Ihiroa continued to maintain the care and support Heriata and I needed along with his sisters and grandparents, to make it through the trying times of milk coming in, milk flow getting established etc. all in the middle of a cold, wet Winter.  During the night he was up with me burping, nappy changing and simply standing by if I needed his help.  Our son did some hard yards which continued with the preparation of rich soil and materials for the management and maintenance of her whāriki takapau, whenua (placenta), pito (dried umbilical cord) and planting of her rākau (tree).

From father to son, decolonising from what our menfolk have been conditioned to think and behave rendering shut out, aids in reclaiming their place as ‘te ira tāne’.  Validation of their presence and inclusion in the birthing space of a child whether it be their own or a sibling is most important in reversing societal harms.

‘I rangahaua koe i te po uriuri

I te po tangotango

Thou wast acclaimed from the depth of darkness

and in the changeable nights’

Critical learning starts by what they are witness to, what they hear and experience their father activating, beginning within te whare tangata (the womb).  It must be a positive demonstration of how a husband/father’s support and strength is needed to hold the space of a mother and child in pregnancy, labouring, birthing, and recovery.  The inclusion of menfolk from extended family only adds more depth to their power as protectors because he must know what to treasure and love in some form to be able to protect.  Tikanga are acquired from whānau, hapū and iwi.  Bridged by mātauranga, ignited, and nurtured within the extended homes of kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa, wharekura, wānanga and ancestral marae.  The facilitation of a son’s schooling is not one sided but shared by exposure and involvement with community.  All they are taught about our creation and evolving existence is unlocked by the past, the key to advancement.  Through language and expression of our values our tamariki know comfortably who they are and what their roles are in any given circumstance under the guidance of elders or close family members.