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The Whare Kohanga (The "Nest House") and its Lore



The principal being presided over childbirth was Hina-te-iwaiwa, sometimes termed Hine-te-iwaiwa, Hina-uri, and Hina-keha. She stands as the personified form of the moon, and is a prominent figure in several singular myths. She is closely connected with Maui, who apparently represents light, and with Tinirau, of the great ocean; with Tiki, the begetter of man; and with Tuna, the phallic eel. With Tangaroa, parent of Tinirau and origin of fish, she acts as tide-controller; and she is pre-eminently the tutelary being of women, presiding over childbirth and the art of weaving. She was appealed to in cases of difficult birth, and female children were dedicated to her because she represented one of the most important of the tasks of women.

During the recital of the dedicatory formula a small hank of dressed Phormium fibre was placed in the hands of the infant. Another female being connected with the moon and childbirth, also women generally, was Hine-korako, who seems to represent the lunar bow or halo. She is one of the bevy of Moon Maidens, the other members being Hine-kotea, Hine-korito, and Hine-makehu. Like the offspring of Tangaroa, te whanau kehu a Tangaroa, they are represented as being fair-haired. These maidens are credited with acting as guides to vessels during deep ocean voyages because they represent lunar phenomena. The heavenly bodies were the main reliance of the Polynesian voyager of yore.

Maori folk claimed to be able to detect the sex of a child prior to birth—at least, some persons did. Thus if the left side of the prospective mother appeared to be the more prominent, then the infant was a female, the reverse condition betokened a male child. If the dark part (wahi pupango) surrounding the breasts was extensive, the child was a female; if of less extent but darker in colour, the issue would be a male child. There were a great many quaint beliefs and superstitions pertaining to birth, a number of which have been recorded in a former paper, noted above.

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Our Maori maintains that the period of labour with women is based upon that of the Earth Mother when she gave birth to the primal offspring, the progeny of the Sky Parent. This period consisted of six po (nights), inasmuch as the Maori counted time by nights, not days. In the first place there was a period of six po during which Papa the Earth Mother nurtured the embryonic infants and so enabled them to acquire form, the breath of life, and growth. During a second period of six po these offspring sought the passage to taiao (this world), and so were born into the enduring world of life. They became separated in later times: some descended to the underworld, some abode in this world of light, some became denizens of the heavens, while yet others were despatched to distant realms, there to be fostered by Hine-makohu (the Mist Maid), Hine-rurumai, and Hine-te-ahuru (the Mother of Stars).

The men of old said: "These nights during which the primal offspring came into the world are represented by the period of labour with our womanfolk. When the movement of the infant commences, should it continue beyond the fourth night a dead child results; should it continue unto the fifth or sixth, a dead mother, a dead child; hence the expression, "Hokai rauru nui, rauru whiwhia, rauru maruaitu."

The expression rauru nui denotes a normal birth and a normal healthy child. Rauru whiwhia describes prolonged labour and a difficult birth, the sequel being either twins or a wayward child, one not born in the normal manner. The third term, marua aitu (or maruaitu) denotes a still longer period of labour that results in a still-born child and probably a dead mother. Rauru is one of the three names for the umbilical cord, the other two being iho and pito. This last name denotes the end attached to the child; the other end is the rauru, while the middle portion is the iho. The expression rauru whiwhia means an entangled umbilical cord, while rauru motu signifies a severed one, which means a stunted child, an endangered mother. In cases of rauru whiwhia it is said that a leg or arm of the child may appear first, and, if so, then the infant would be termed a tamaiti whakatoi, a wayward child. The nurse would attend to the matter as the priestly expert recited charms to facilitate birth. In these serious cases the woman was sometimes conveyed to the tuahu, the tapu place of the village whereat many rites were performed. and there a formula was repeated over her by the priest. The following is one that was employed by superior tohunga when the suffering woman was a member of an important family:—

Haramai, e hine! I te Maruaroa
Whakaputa i a koe ki taiao
page 17 Ki te ara o to tipuna, o Hine-titama
I takahia ai tapuwae nuku, tapuwae rangi
Tapuwae ki Tiritiri o Matangi hauaroa
Whaia to tapuwae, ko te tapuwae o to tipuna o Hine-hauone
Ka takoto ai i roto i a Hui-te-rangiora
Whakaputa i a koe, e hine! ki te aoturoa.

This effusion was addressed to the mother. It adjures her to bring forth her child even as her ancestress the Dawn Maid entered the world. Having concluded this recital the expert then repeated the following, addressed to the infant:—

Tenei au te hoka nei i to tapuwae
Ko te hokai nuku, ko te hokai rangi
Ko te hokai whakaputa i a koe ki Tahuaroa, ki te aoturoa.
Haramai, e tama! (e hine ranei)
Takahia mai to ara, ko te ara whanui a Tane
Whakakake i a koe i te ara o to tipuna, o Hine-titama
I whakaputa ai i a ia ki taiao
Kia takawhaki ia roto i Hui-te-ananui
Ka tau te mauri ki te whai ao, ki te ao marama
Ka tangi te mapu waiora ki te urutapu, e tama . . e!"

This calls upon the infant to bestir himself, to come forth into the world by the way in which the Dawn Maid came, and prepare to tread the broad path of Tane to the end. The reciter has in this case made up his mind that the infant is of the male sex; if otherwise he would have addressed it as "e hine".

In ordinary cases wherein a priestly expert attended a woman he would repeat a formula in which pleasure was expressed at the coming of the child, and gratitude to the source from which the soul or spirit (the wairua), spiritual welfare (toiora) and knowledge emanated. Maori myth tells us that when Hine-titama, the Dawn Maid, gave birth to Hine-rau-wharangi, who ever roams in the realm of Tane and Rehua, such a ritual formula was repeated.