Mate Marama (part 3/3)
Welcome back to part three of this series by Hera on mate marama in relation to the moon.
As discussed earlier within this assignment, there were many restrictions put on a Māori woman during her mate marama and for Māori women within New Zealand today, there are still restrictions that they are conditioned by that reflect the traditional ideas of mate marama (August 2005:117). However, following the colonisation of New Zealand, western perspectives have developed that focus on the exclusion of Māori women and the notion that they are ‘dirty’ during their mate marama (August 2005:117).
Although not all of the traditional restrictions that were imposed on to Māori women during their mate marama are still practiced, there are still some that contemporary Māori women still abide by. This is for the same reason that drove the traditional restrictions; tapu (August 2005:119). Māori women today still do not visit urupā or “food gathering sites” during their mate marama because they are still considered tapu at that time and a place such as an urupā is tapu also (August 2005:119). Entering a space that is tapu whilst in a tapu state such as a woman, who was menstruating, can be seen as a “mix of tapu” (August 2005:121). In addition, if a menstruating women enters a “food gathering site” whilst she is tapu, she will make all the food, which is essentially noa, tapu as well (August 2005:121). This is linked to the traditional understandings of mate marama as women were not able to fish for shellfish or gather food from a garden, because of the tapu and noa elements involved (Heuer 1972:30; Papakura 1986:138).
The western perspectives argue that a women being restricted from wāhi tapu whilst she is menstruating can be seen as “subordination” and “exclusion” (August 2005:121). However, according to August (2005:122), Māori women feel a sense of respect and empowerment rather than feeling excluded as there is an understanding that powers such as tapu need to be respected within wāhi tapu. In addition, western perspectives portray Māori women as being ‘dirty’ and ‘unclean’ during mate marama, rather than sacred (August 2005:120). Although Māori viewed menstruating women as ‘unclean’ too, this could be attributed to the connection to tapu rather being because a woman was physically dirty at this time; as menstruating women could contaminate the wāhi tapu because she herself is tapu (August 2005:121; Papakura 1986:19). This could also be a residual effect of the colonisation of Māori by the Europeans and the introduction of western perspectives (August 2005:120).
A practical example of women being restricted by their mate marama in a contemporary setting is working at Te Papa Tongarewa, a New Zealand museum (Royal 2004:8). As the museum is located within New Zealand, Te Papa tries to observe aspects of mātauranga Māori and respect customary concepts such as tapu in their practice (Royal 2004:8). Therefore, women who are working with Māori taonga are not permitted to work with the taonga during their mate marama (Royal 2004:8). An example of western perspectives colliding with Māori perspectives on mate marama was a request that women who were menstruating or pregnant, should not come to the exhibition at Te Papa because of the tapu elements involved with the exhibition. However, there was much anger at this request because it was seen as excluding women, rather than adherence to Māori culture (Wade 2010:1). This demonstrates the lack of understanding that the western perspective has on Māori customary concepts such as tapu and mate marama as it was seen as negative towards women, rather than about the sacredness of their bodies within Māori culture.
It is clear that Māori women are still conditioned today by the traditional ideas that surround mate marama and that there can be a ‘clash of cultures’ where western perspectives misunderstand the meaning behind restrictions and Māori cultural elements such as tapu. Throughout this assignment, mate marama has been discussed in relation to the moon and its connection to Māori women. Following that, a traditional definition has been provided and key sources were critiqued. The Māori concept of tapu in relation to mate marama and the restrictions imposed traditionally on to Māori women at this time has been explored as well as the possible idea of there being a pragmatic element to mate marama. How Māori women are conditioned by mate marama today has been discussed. Finally, how western perspectives of mate marama contrast with the Māori views has been explored.
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- Hera, Aotearoa