With the modern resurgence of the maramataka, many Māori are revisiting the menstruation traditions of their tūpuna. Alice Webb-Liddall explains how this practice is helping her understand her period better than ever before.
Three years ago, Leonie Hayden wrote about the history of Māori and their periods. In her piece, she talked about the colonial narrative that says women’s bodies and periods should be hidden. She talked about the perspectives her tūpuna would have had towards these and how ikura were celebrated.
Three years later, I’m unsure how much I expected things to have changed. Over those three years we’ve learnt a lot about our bodies – how they react to stress, illness and being cooped up indoors. Perceptions of self-care have changed over this time too. We’ve learnt it’s OK to stay home when we’re not feeling 100%, that stupid little walks can be beneficial to our mental and physical health, and to not take good health, time with family and being able to buy a decent barista coffee for granted.
It took just over two years to get into new routines to avoid the virus, and care for ourselves if we got it. So why then, in the decade since I first got my ikura, am I still shocked by it every time? Why do I still feel whakamā about bleeding and about taking time to look after myself when I experience pain – physical and mental – in the pre-menstrual phase? The obvious solution would be to start tracking my cycle. Beyond the (often debilitating) cramping that hits the day before the floodgates open, I’ve never taken notice of the time of month in which I start to bleed.
Michele Wilson (Tainui, Ngati Pāoa), founder of Aotearoa period underwear company AWWA, has been doing just this for the last five years, using the maramataka to track her menstrual cycle and her high- and low-energy days.
“The menstrual cycle spans the whole 28 days,” she explains. “We’ve always just been focused on that time when we actually bleed, but your whole menstrual cycle has different phases, and they relate differently to the maramataka as well.”
The different phases of the moon and their relation to people’s energies is an important part of how Māori traditionally lived. Realising she became uncharacteristically confrontational during the Whiro lunar phase, Wilson asked advice from some friends.
“‘What are you doing during Whiro?’, they asked me, and I said, ‘Well, I’m not really doing anything differently.’ And they said, ‘That’s why it’s a dark time for you.'”
Instead of trying to go about her life like normal, Wilson’s friends gave her a meditation to do during Whiro, during which time she would stay home, meditate and be gentle with herself and her emotions. It was an obvious next step to begin tracking her period by the same lunar calendar.
Now, she lives her life by the maramataka – using her knowledge of her own body’s cycles and the Māori lunar phases to understand when to rest, be social, work and plan.
“I won’t come into the office during Whiro, or really Tamatea either. That is my time at home where I’m planning for the rest of the month. Tangaroa is my most productive phase. So I bounce out of bed and work 12 hours straight, and do that for seven days.”
Running her own company by the maramataka, Wilson has the benefit of stipulating these irregular working hours – but she thinks all Aotearoa businesses should be looking toward a model that lets people work by their natural cycles, which can be very different for people who get periods.
While people without periods have a 24-hour hormonal cycle (meaning a good night’s sleep can reset their energy for the new day), people with periods have a 28-day hormonal cycle. Basically everything we do – from working to resting – has been built around the 24-hour cycle that benefits people who don’t get periods.
“Once [people] can see the patterns where they are productive being outside, and patterns when they can be a lot more productive being inside and internal, it’s going to have huge benefits to mental health and to productivity and work as well.”
Over the last month learning and tracking aspects of my life by the maramataka, I’ve learnt that my ikura arrives during Rakaunui, a traditionally high-energy moon phase – though for me, it’s not. And while I might be a few conversations and some research away from asking work to let me scrap the nine-to-five schedule, I’m learning more about my menstrual cycle, and my ikura, than I ever have before.
In 2019, Leonie Hayden said her ikura is a link to her whakapapa. Referencing the work of Dr Rangimārie Rose Pere (Ngāi Tūhoe), she said: “Te awa atua, the divine river. The flow of time and the flow of blood through women are one and the same.” Now, after years of resenting the stress of leaking, the physical pain in my whare tangata and the hormonal peaks and troughs, my ikura has become that for me too – a connection to Papatūānuku and to the same marama my tūpuna looked up to.