With an interest in spirituality and traditions around birth, which I believe is very much lacking, and is a missing piece in western birth...coming to New Zealand to visit family i couldnt not utilise my spare time here researching Maori birth.
Maori have an incredible unique culture, they are indigenous Polynesian, just few generations from their 'old' religion. Which means their ancestors memory and stories are very close, honoured, and for many Maori old religion is still practised. Maori culture is very present in New Zealand. The first language spoken is Te Reo, Maori language, in public greetings. There are over fifty tribes, and just under half the population in New Zealand are Maori people. Its amazing to see so much Maori culture alive despite the damage caused by European settlers.
Maori belief, like many old belief systems was and is for some a belief in a pantheon of gods.
Maori believed / believe a woman in pregnancy and birth is close to the ancestors and gods. Maori believe their babies are the face of their ancestors.
Whilst here on Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand i had the opportunity to follow a few episodes of My Maori Midwife, following different maori midwives each week working on the North island. Read a number of websites, maternity research papers, books, and watch a few documentaries...all things hard to find in the UK and just at your fingertips here.
I didn't find the time sadly to meet with local midwives this time as I'd hoped, but they wete very friendly and helpful with my research.
So, in my small amounts of research, I have seen Maori midwives are keen to help empower parents find their culture and claim kaupapa traditions and customs for their babys birth.
In the north island a two day antenatal class is offered, parents are invited and will learn birth preparation and incorporate beautiful kaupapa (customs). They learn to make cord ties out of a certain type of flax plant.
They will make clay containers to contain their baby's Wheuna (placenta) for burial.
Plus in some classes they can make a flax Wahakura for co sleeping.
Many Maori choose to birth at home. Before colonial changes Maori women would birth alone in a sacred ancestral Maori place in nature, but home is the practical option today.
After birth, once the placenta is birthed ideally, the cord is tied using flax, and cut with sharp piece of Obsidian.
From what I have seen and read it is often tied and cut by the father or grandmother, the family sing a welcoming song to welcome the baby to earth as their cord is cut.
The placenta is placed into the clay container made by the parents and buried in ritual, to ensure stability for the baby, so they always know they can return. Maori believe the earth is our mother, Papatūānuku, to give the placenta to her is to return it to her for safe keeping. The Wheuna is a gift from mother earth, 'A life force that grows our babies. A gift we treasure'. (Quoted from My Maori Midwife NZTV).
This is just one of the burial places provided by the new zealand government for placenta burial. I just love this is possible, and honoured. https://www.ccc.govt.nz/services/cemeteries/casket-and-ash-burials-interments/interments/port-hills-placenta-tree-planting
The waters from the birth are also often returned to Papatūānuku, earth mother, to honour her, honour life, honour birth and give thanks in a beautiful sacred way with traditional sacred song. Pop over to You Tube to see a beautiful song. https://youtu.be/uwy6pnVxZcQ I found this beautiful song and ritual through https://homebirth.org.nz/about-us/
Songs are sung during every ritual, Songs of the Tipuna (ancestors ) passed down through generations. It is through song and story traditions continue to weave into culture for future Maori children. People protect earth and culture as Tipuna did before them.
Most ritual is led by the grandmother, the oldest female of the baby's family, as she is the face of the ancestors, she is wise and will be passing down all she knows, she is honoured having walked this land the longest. Grandmother is also closest to the ancestors as she is close to the exit of life.
A blessing is often done too by many Pacific islanders not just Maori, the grandmother will walk the baby to a sacred place, used and honoured by ancestors for centuries, a place with sacred water. The family attend and the grandmother blesses the baby with water and ancestral song. She will sing a specific family welcoming song passed down through generations to the baby, as the new face of the family, the face that will carry their culture, family, and traditions forward.
I am a white European with little understanding of Maori culture, I am writing this blog to share the beauty of a culture from a tiny window of research.
One day I'd love to come back, as long as my family are here too and learn more if I can. There are many incredible women here doing their best to preserve and reclaim their Tikanga (culture), for the health of their wairua (spirit).
I believe the more we learn from other cultures the more we can help humanity live better on our planet.
European indigenous culture was in many places lost a long time ago with migration and outside influences just as we have done to other cultures sadly.
Through learning the tiny fragments I'm learning, reclaiming old traditions, and spiritual honouring, makes so much sense to me. Humans all over the world used plant fibres as cord ties, as we use plants for fabrics for clothing. Burial of our placentas in a sacred vessel at a sacred burial ground or by the home with a tree planted on top is common throughout the world. Songs from our ancestors carried through generations to preserve culture, morals, traditions and spirituality is a beautiful human practise. Baskets for our babies, and weaving of our slings and carriers to keep our babies close. Honouring of our earth mother, our home and provider of all we have here on earth.
Our cultures are all vastly different but humans have many similarities as you can see, our religions vastly different with similarities too when you look closely.
We have to also be aware of cultural appropriation, I am not writing this to promote Maori tradition in western culture because it is not our culture or do I wish to dishonour by writing this blog. I am an enthusiastic doula who loves learning about spirituality around birth and finding ways to return it to birth for the future of humanity, as I believe good life starts with a good birth for baby and mum for many reasons, the health and wellbeing of the mothers and baby's spirit being one. Birth and spirituality go hand in hand. If we can help people reconnect with their spirituality, their culture, we can help them connect better with birth and have a fantastic birth, and great feeling of the soul to carry through life.
Lisa Kelly, a Maori Midwife and author says to honour and respect culture is important for the wellbeing the Wairua (spirit).
References of website, books, tv documentaries I've collected these beautiful traditions from for this blog:
My Maori Midwife. Tv documentary on NZTV.
Pacific island women. Film. Documenting women on the islands aired on Air New zealand.
You tube: The whakarura project.
Birthing practice in the Pacific. book.
- Maori Midwife Lisa Kelly on You Tube. (Shes awesome- she's written a book too!)
- Home birth Aotearoa. Website.https://homebirth.org.nz/about-us
- Te puja Rotorua- a maori guide called Carla.
- Plus a few government websites on maternity stats in new Zealand.