Mud is the substance that connects us to Papatuuaanuku. We are formed from her uku – her red clay, from which we will take many shapes and forms within our lifetimes.
When I first opened Te Awa Atua by Ngahuia Murphy I didn’t expect to be initiated into an ancient space wherein the story of our human existence was given new life.
As a waahine (female) Maaori growing up in the crux of urbanised New Zealand culture, I was rarely given opportunities in my everyday, western educational life to learn about the treasures and wisdoms from our mother earth. Fortunately, I was blessed with two kind, loving and deeply spiritual parents who created our divine sanctuary which I had the honour of calling home.
My childhood home was filled with fruit trees, gardens, forest, kai, music, colour and whaanau. Over the last 10 years I recall having had countless dialogues with teachers, companions, friends, and fellow travelers, about the stories of our ancestors – the stories of their creation into human form; our human evolution.
Te Awa Atua is a story, a perspective, that is rarely heard and rarely voiced through that of an indigenous wahine from Aotearoa. Ngahuia weaves threads of her people, her life, her maatauranga, into the story of how we came into existence.
Ngahuia draws upon various leaders, academics, activists and tohunga in a dialogue that reveals our hidden stories and practices of pre-colonial Maori society, with a central focus on celebrating menstruation and the life giving forces of the whare tangata. Ngahuia undertakes a very intentional journey of navigation, focusing primarily on unlocking, (re)claiming, (re)shaping, and revealing the ancient menstrual ceremonial practices our Maori people, the practices our Maori waahine were once fully immersed within.
This powerful work contributes to an ongoing dialogue stretching across time before beginning. It explores and retells our Maaori mythology story Kura Waka, the story of how our first human being Hineahuone was created. Ngahuia looks beneath the layers of our mother earth giving insights, collected from various Maaori Wahine across Aotearoa. Ngahuia makes no apologies for situating herself within her body of work, in fact it is through her embodiment of kaupapa Maori, as an indigenous writer, that gives validity and mana to her research approach:
“This study aims to retrieve stories about menstruation and menstrual blood from the world of our ancestors. The stories reflect the physical, spiritual and political significance of Maaori women, constructed within the cosmogonic and metaphysical universe of our ancestors.”
As I began to voyage through Ngahuia’s words, conversations and experiences, I found myself learning not only how our stories and ritual traditions of Te Awa Atua (the spring from the gods) were practiced, but I also began to dive deeper into the underworld, to the beginning of human creation itself. For me, Te Awa Atua is a deeply powerful and vital voice for how we as waahine, living and breathing in the 21st century, can continue to reveal and (re)awaken our true natures.