Mate Marama (part 2/3)

Welcome back to part two of this series by Hera on mate marama in relation to the moon. 

Tapu and Restriction

There are many tapu elements that are attached to mate marama and in order to understand how they are connected; the concept of tapu will be discussed and brief definitions will be provided. Tapu is a Māori customary concept that is can be explained through the words ‘restricted’ or ‘forbidden and the notion that there may be a negative repercussion if the tapu is broken (Shirres 1997:33). Conversely, Shirres (1997:33) argues that these words do not provide enough meaning to the concept of tapu. Tapu is made up of ‘being with potentiality for power’ and ‘mana of the spiritual powers’ and neither is enough on their own (Shirres 1997:33). In addition, there are things that are tapu because they are tapu within themselves; this is called intrinsic tapu. There can also be tapu that is extended, only because of the intrinsic tapu they are protecting, or providing a restriction for (Shirres 1997:33). Women are intrinsically tapu and can make something that has an extended tapu, noa (Shirres 1982:38). There are many different tapu and defining tapu is hard as it changes depending on the circumstance as to which the tapu is applied (August 2005:119). In relation to Māori myth, the story of Hinenuitepō and Māui can be seen as having a connection to women and tapu as Māui was killed between the thighs of Hinenuitepō as he tried to gain immortality for humans through entering her uterus (Irwin 1984:26).

Many of the sources describe a woman during mate marama as tapu. The tapu that is placed on a woman during mate marama can be attributed to the blood that is shed, as blood itself is considered tapu (Mead 2005:49). It can also be attributed to the idea that the blood that is shed represents a “human embryo” (Goldie 1904:89). This is an undeveloped human that, if the mate marama was to stop it would result in a human and thus the tapu is applied. This implies that the woman herself is not tapu, and it is instead the undeveloped human that makes her tapu during mate marama (Goldie 1904:89). Furthermore, mate marama can be symbolic of “no life” and therefore can be seen as tapu (August 2005:120). This is a quote from a Māori woman, taken from Elsdon Best that demonstrates the idea that the mate marama or paheke in this sense is a person who may grow in a man, a man who is tapu:

“E ahua tangata ana te paheke o te wāhine; he whakatipu taua mea”

Translation: “The paheke of a woman is a sort of human being; it is a person in embryo”

(Best, The Lore of the Whare Kohanga 1905:211).

It is important to note that this story was told to Elsdon Best and thus cannot be considered the finite truth. In addition, Elsdon Best appears to take his own interpretation on what the story truly means. However, many scholars and academics have used the information that was provided by Elsdon Best.

Women were seen as being ‘unclean’ as well as tapu during mate marama (Papakura 1986:19). In addition, she was also seen as ‘impure’, which led to many restrictions that she was to adhere to during this time (Best, The Maori Volume 1 1924:406). The restrictions that were imposed on to women during mate marama ranged from not being able to prepare an oven to catching a horse and there were consequences for failing to abide by the restrictions (Heuer 1972:30; Mead 2003:17). During mate marama women could not enter gardens as this may result in the produce failing to grow or she was not allowed to cook “tawa” berries as they may not properly cook (Heuer 1972:30). If she attempted to gather shellfish, the fish may swim in the other direction (Papakura 1986:138). This restriction in the ocean and fishing for shellfish during mate marama can be connected to the tapu of blood (Mead 2003:17). All the elements involved are not able to go together harmoniously as both food and water have the ability to decrease tapu, and a menstruating woman is tapu during this time (Mead 2003:17).

According to Broughton (n.d.:8), “in time of war or when men were occupied in some serious project, they were not permitted to sleep with their wives” in order to resist committing a hapa or a serious mistake or offence because she was menstruating. The spiritual powers of mate marama could be left on to bedding or clothing. The result would be that that place was considered unclean and unsafe for man to lay there (Heuer 1972:11). Māori women made sure that the young women around them understood what their mate marama was, before they reached the right age for it to happen (Papakura 1986:138). A grandmother, mother, or some other close relative would teach the young girl and this was due to the many restrictions that fell upon women during mate marama (Papakura 1986:138). There could also be a pragmatic element that can be associated with mate marama. As discussed earlier, women are not able to fish for shellfish within the ocean during their mate marama because of their tapu at this time (Heuer 1972:30). However, this could also be attributed to the danger of within the ocean if sharks are being attracted by the smell of blood due to the women having her mate marama (Mead 2003:17).  

Continue to Part III

- Hera, Aotearoa