Te Whare Pora.

By Maakarita Paku
Dec 2015

Ko Tākitimu te waka

Ko Te Whakapunake a Māui tikitiki a Taranga ki runga

Ko Te Wairoa Hōpūpū Hōnengenenge Mātangi Rau ki raro

Nō Ngāti Iwikātea, Ngāi Te Kapuamatotoru me Ngāti Hinemihi ngā hapū

Ko Ngārangimataeo te tangata

Nō Ngāti Kahungunu taku iwi

Ko Maakarita Paku taku ingoa

Tīhewa Mauri Ora!

‘Tis life!

Exclamation of the first newborn breath brought forth from darkness to light.’

First born NgaaRauuira and last born Inia

Honouring the divine calling of the baby catchers, ngā tapuhingā māia.This Novena is an offering dedicated in acknowledgement of midwives and the memory of my mother Janet Patricia Paku Q.S.M. 09.11.1939 – 25.11.2014 who was a midwife in Hawke’s Bay at the height of her career in the 1960s.

Thanks, and gratitude to the gentle, loving, baby catching hands who have untangled umbilical cords; massaged aches, rubbed bellies, wiped away tears, instilled confidence, and dispelled fear to name only a few of the duties they task themselves with. You are cherished; remembered and woven into our whāriki.

Papatuanuku by Te Ihiroa Oranga Whenua

The Art of Traditional Māori Birth

Māori, people of The Big Turtle and other indigenous identities of the generation I belong to, have been instilled with an understanding that birth is sacred. Birth is a ceremony unlocking the past to the future.[1]

However, how to survive birth in the 21st century requires open dialogue, engagement with the next generation of women, birthers and future baby catchers. So, it is said in the voice of our ancients.

Nau mai e hine ki te whare pora

Nau mai e hine ki te whare tangata.’ [2]

‘Enter my daughter into the sacred domain of women

Your being

Your passage

Your power

Your rite’

Tiospaye Whare Tangata

To prioritise birth today, generation gaps occur and widen too quickly if the seeds of knowledge are not sown and nurtured. The next generation of birthers are much younger and as projected by Dr. Mason Durie, contributing to Māori population growth in much greater numbers for the first time since colonisation.

Traditional Midwives Maakarita Paku Maru Karatea Goddard Patrisia Gonzalez Tungane Kani

In early childhood the sacredness of women and birth is in our whakapapa. Therefore, imbuing empowerment to our daughters makes certain that they never meet the bottom lines of concealed birthing, poor health, self-harm, suicide, poverty, addiction and violence in its many forms eventuating in the death of innocents and waste of life.

If we do not ensure knowledge is their power, our beloved are at risk. When family structures are broken, young girls emerging into womanhood are sometimes not equipped with the tools they need to survive. So, when time has lapsed to impart the knowledge they needed, another generation is already at risk.

For Māori transitioning the divide of childhood into adolescence or in between establishing their future pathways, the art of traditional Māori birth carries the protocols of womanhood. Only one of many strands Te Whare Pora initiates the rites of passage to ensure our continued survival in the new millennia. Within our teachings we are taught all we need to know.

Rangi and Papa by Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti

It is not often enough that a Māori world lens gives focus to the traditional way of birthing within a contemporary context in Aotearoa. My generation has been inspired by the ability of our ancestors because the cultural competences of yester century are still intact. For now, sowing the seeds so that they take root within the grassroots of urban and rural communities is the way of whānau ora for our tamariki.

Before there were hospitals, we were at home in our whare pora, within birthing structures, ancestral birthing abodes and the natural environment we co-existed in. Physical and cultural safety was assured then and still can be, even today after many generations where in some parts of Aotearoa homebirth is a dirty word.

Whakapapa and tikanga Māori has evolved into models such as Tūranga Kaupapa, Te Whare Tapa Whā, Te Wheke, Te Rangihau, Te Whare Tauawhiawhi, Whakatupuranga Rua Mano and Te Waka to name a few. They have been designed as universal frameworks, fundamental as the guiding principles of Māori institutions aligning to kaupapa Māori. Te Whare Pora, is one of those institutions, the domain and art of traditional Māori birth where the how, when, what, why and where of tikanga tuku iho are activated and downloaded in our time of need.

Mana motuhake

‘Rapua te mea ngaro’ – Tungane Kani, Māori Midwife [3]

Seek and reclaim the knowledge and understanding required.

Nga Manu Pounamu by Neke Moa

Trust that what you know, and need is within you, for yours is the creation; the nurturing and the weaving of human potential, ancient wisdom reclaimed.

From māmā to tamahine, mana motuhake is also established through whakapapa. Birth sovereigns of high order who are blueprinted to birth in their own creation, are healthy, strong, confident, and open to their own ability as the convenor of newborn life. Despite a woman’s ethnicity, age, experience, medical history, and current health status, she trusts in herself to determine her own choices. Ultimately permitting herself to seek and make well informed decisions guided and supported by those she can trust.

The inner midwife within us [4] is sometimes an unknown state of mind waiting to be awoken from a deep sleep in the sub-conscious. Indigenous women are asserting their stance as birth sovereigns in an age where sterilisation and genocide continues. Women are key to the revitalisation of birth sovereignty where we are being called upon to heal the past and the present through birth. As we do so, Papatūanuku receives powerful healing and is rebirthed.

Birth Sovereignty brings hope, freedom, re-normalization of cultural and spiritual, meaningful connected birth, the healing of intergenerational trauma and regaining our body’s autonomy as Indigenous women – Sacheen Seitcham [5]

Ahousat Midwife, British Columbia 2015

Kohatu Mauri

First time māmā are not always aware that their birth sovereignty insists that they can question the information they are told. Ensuring they are fully informed in their decision making is paramount particularly when their care plan requires medical intervention. Increased risk escalates from one intervention upon another, common when decisions are made in one way dictatorial conversations, part of a birthing culture for women who unknowingly follow the unspoken just do, do not say, resulting in horrific traumatic experiences that many never find closure to.

In our own domain, a birthing woman is the power from which all who enter her sacred space do so by her invitation or acceptance.

Rangi and Papa

‘Whakamahana’ (to make warm) – is a practical tradition referring to the warmth created in the home, living or birthing space by those who reside or frequent the home with their good intentions, energy, love, and kindness for the māmā, her unborn pēpi and her whānau. Practiced as an expression of manaakitanga, it is a ritual of goodwill in kind, a gift from the heart to warm the heart.

When we are not able to birth within our own sanctities, that birthing power can be harnessed to claim and create the same type of security and familiarity in a hospital setting as we would at home. Whakamahana is the traditional way of empowering a circle of people or whānau members who can be the caretakers for each of the tasks required. It is like furnishing a room or painting a picture with all the goodness you love and wish to be surrounded by. All in aid of setting an ambient atmosphere, be it sound, smell, visual or otherwise. These are just some of the simple but meaningful rites and traditions of Te Whare Pora.

Māori know this stage of the preparation as ‘whakatau mauri.’ The expression of this ceremony translates in a thousand ways but for this purpose, as the establishment of all things warm and fuzzy. Bringing calmness, openness and tranquillity for the māmā and pēpi is vital for his or her safe passage, seeking entrance into the world of light and the living.

Lambskin Medicine Shield

A deeply spiritual ceremony with many variations, what is most paramount about whakatau mauri is that this passage is initiated with the purest of intentions. Orchestrated through all the senses and lifted into the highest dimensions, all is connected, signalling to mother and child that the world is ready for them. At this point the mother is gently reminded to relax and trust in the process that is natural and safe. The importance of this ceremony is linked through three aspects but not limited:

  • Whakaaro rangatira – noble thoughts and intentions
  • Mahi rangatira – noble roles, tasks, and offerings
  • Kōtahitanga – completed in unity towards the focussed outcome

When standing in your birth sovereignty, those around you truly understand you are not necessarily diseased or disabled by pregnancy.  The more information women are provided and encouraged with the more equipped she will be to cope and overcome the highs and lows that can occur.[6] How we process and apply knowledge impacts on the way we birth and parent our children.

‘He tapu te wāhine nō te mea, he whare tangata.’

Women are sacred because we are the house of people.

As an art form, traditional Māori birth is a spiritual, hands-on, interactive experience just like practical Māori Art which has evolved, revitalising our dialectal differences, continuing to revive our birthing processes along with the biodiversity of our natural world. Heirlooms created are tāonga tuku iho which carry the whakapapa, mana, knowledge of the pēpi hou, significant events and family history intertwined, retained as repositories for future generations.

Such art forms are new to some, however there are many who have an awareness of their own whānau traditions or have whānau members who carry guardianship roles during their pregnancies through to the birth and rearing of the tamaiti. Each whānaunga holds an important role in the birthing power that can be a woman’s to share with her most dearest.

Takapau Wharanui birth mat

Mana motuhake is the freedom of mind; body, soul, and family, determining our own whānau ora as a lifestyle of choices not parameters. It acknowledges that everyone is important, their contributions as givers and receivers in their part of the creation story completed together and as individuals as taught within Te Whare Pora.

Te Tatau o Mataariki Morning Star by Te Ihiroa Oranga Whenua

Iwi:      Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tūhoe

Ngāti Kurī, Ngāti Kahu, Te Rarawa, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Lakota Oyate

Kupu Awhina

Aotearoa                                                         Land of The Long White Cloud, New Zealand

hapūtanga                                                        with child

kaupapa                                                           purpose, intent

māmā                                                               mother

manaakitanga                                                  expressions of unconditional well-being towards others

mana motuhake                                               sovereignty of self and others,

self-determination, free will

Māori                                                               collective name adapted by the British monarch

Papatūanuku                                                   Earthmother

pēpi hou                                                          new-born

tamahine                                                          daughter

tamaiti                                                             child

tamariki                                                           children

tāonga tuku iho                                               treasures or knowledge handed down

tāpuhi, māia                                                     traditional midwife

Te Whare Pora                                                Domain of women and traditional arts

tikanga Māori                                                  Māori protocol, tradition, and customs

tikanga tuku iho                                              Māori protocol and customs handed down

whakapapa                                                      birth right, genealogy, stories, blueprint, DNA

whānau                                                            family

whanaunga                                                      relative

whānau ora                                                      family holistic well-being

whare tangata                                                  birth passage and womb

whāriki                                                            woven mat


[1] Gonzalez, Patrisia. Dr. Kickapoo, Comanche, Nahua Baby Catcher

Author of ‘Red Medicine – Traditional Indigenous Rights of Birthing and Healing’ 2012

[2] Karatea-Goddard, Maru. Māori Midwife 1998

[3] Kani, Tungane. Māori Midwife2006

[4] Reefman, Diane. Māori Midwife 2015

[5]Seitcham, Sacheen. Ahousat Midwife 2015

[6]Pearson, Rachel. Homebirther 2015