Dr Hinemoa Elder’s new book Wawata (Image: Tina Tiller)
Dr Hinemoa Elder’s new book Wawata (Image: Tina Tiller)

BooksOctober 30, 2022

Practical and poetic: a review of Wawata, Dr Hinemoa Elder’s guide to the maramataka

Dr Hinemoa Elder’s new book Wawata (Image: Tina Tiller)
Dr Hinemoa Elder’s new book Wawata (Image: Tina Tiller)

Jessica Hinerangi Thompson-Carr (aka Māori Mermaid) finds a taonga within the pages of Dr Hinemoa Elder’s follow-up to the bestselling Aroha.

Wawata – Moon Dreaming by Dr Hinemoa Elder is one of the most exciting books I have read this year. 

A practical and poetic guide, this pukapuka takes us through the 30 different phases of the Māori moon calendar. Not only are we provided ancestral knowledge about what the many faces of Hina can mean for us and our communities, we are also given a very personal perspective from Elder herself. 

Wawata kicks off by almost immediately introducing us to the ātaahua Okoro lunar calendar created by Ted (Edward) Llewellyn Jones in 1969. I was so grateful to have this visual reference, which I could return to throughout my progress into moon dreaming. I have always found the maramataka a daunting challenge to comprehend. I know it will take me a lifetime to wrap my head around it, and the biggest step for me is taking the initiative to actively live with it, by it. Elder has made this learning process just that little bit easier. 

Okoro lunar calendar created by Ted (Edward) Llewellyn Jones. (Image: Erica Sinclair)

Her pukapuka rises and falls like the breast of the sea. We begin in Whiro, a time of darkness and renewal. From this new moon we are led toward the first light of Tirea, a beautiful moon which confronts us with vital pātai about our bodies, how we treat and value them. Elder does not shy away from asking us the hard questions. How can we be more forgiving toward ourselves? How can we reclaim our rage? What does it mean to say “I love you”?

With every moon we are kindly confronted with thought provoking questions which can be interpreted in so many different ways. I don’t doubt every reader will develop their own unique relationship with Wawata. 

The way Elder writes feels so close and personal, it was as though she were whispering in my ear the whole time. Some chapters were dearly relatable, while others offered lived experiences that I have yet to encounter, such as motherhood, and living fluently with Te Reo. It’s a joy to soak in Elder’s advice for the future, her voice is so enveloping, her knowledge so deep. 

We are offered all sorts of reflections within Wawata. One of my favourite phases is Huna, the phase where we are most aware of our breath. In this section Elder encourages us to explore our own breathing, and speaks of Hineahuone, the first woman, and the breath she passed down to all of us. Elder has a magnificent way of creating relief in her writing – I felt her words pull me in, and sat with them for as long as I needed to. It is safe to be still with Wawata, it is safe to be quiet. 

Elder recalls pūrakau from our atua throughout her writing, like Hine-nui-te-Pō, Tangaroa, and Tāne. The stories of these atua are presented to inspire and challenge us to see what power we can bring into our own circumstances. Their presence in this pukapuka is strong. The histories of old days have so much to offer us in regards to our daily life lessons and decision-making. (As can be seen in the Hotu section about Māhinaarangi and Ngāti Raukawa – this part was so divine!)

There is a focus on female humour, and the power of the female body and sexuality, particularly under the Ōturu moon. I love how Elder recognises that our tūpuna could have a really good laugh about sex, whilst standing firm in their sexuality and fierce in their desires. She encourages us to carry this same confidence and good humour into our own modern day lives. 

Original artwork by Māori Mermaid

In Wawata we not only get to know the faces of Hina but we also get to know Hinemoa Elder a little bit better too. She lets us in to hear and feel her aroha, her dreams, her insecurities, her losses and her triumphs. She leads by example, engaging with each moon in her own way, sharing her relationship with each phase. 

Elder offers up these bite-sized treasures, precious histories, accounts of past wahine in our history and in her own whakapapa. She breaks down the ingoa of the faces of Hina, and reflects on how the pandemic has changed so many lives and what this means for us looking forward. She speaks on memories of female anger and laughter, and talks about how climate change is affecting all of us. 

All her concepts and emotional prompts will resonate with us in many different ways, and I can see readers digressing from Elder’s book to their own little notebooks in which they can begin to track their own feelings and pātai around the moon phases. Wawata encourages us to seek new knowledge about Te Ao and ourselves. From the repetition of the cycle above, we are ever changing below, developing in our bodies, our sexualities, and our wisdoms. Elder reminds us that we are unmistakably connected to nature, no matter how far away some of us feel from it. There is no escaping the effects of the moon. 

This can be hard to remember when life is so fast. Many of our education systems and work environments will not allow us to move and breathe in accordance with the maramataka. Capitalism doesn’t care whether it’s Korekore or Ōtāne. But being able to hold Wawata, to keep it on our desks or in our bags and check it every now and then, helps to remind us of who we truly are. Complicated, beautiful beings who, despite how busy we get, are going through a spectrum of emotions that could perhaps be clarified better by this book. And the beautiful part is, we can read it anywhere, we don’t necessarily have to be outside looking for the moons, we are connected no matter where we are: Elder reminds us of this through her own accounts visiting other countries or being out on the open sea.  

Having some insight into the characteristics and common impacts of the faces of Hina allows us better insight into why some days we may feel low and slow, or some days we are high energy and passionate. Rather than assuming that the majority of our experiences and inner feelings are random and linked to nothing, Wawata encourages us to consider our connection with the moon, the tides, and our place in the world of light. 

Wawata is the taonga I so sorely needed as a young wahine, particularly when I was coming out of the education system and trying to find my feet as an individual in a chaotic world. 

I personally cannot wait to carry this pukapuka with me through each phase of the moon, re-reading and referencing, dreaming my own dreams. Wawata is an intimate and generous text, stitched lovingly with self-reflection, sacred knowledge, and the rich life experiences of an incredible wahine. It will act as an anchor for many Māori who are on their reconnection journey, and is a taonga to be held close throughout the year, throughout the life.

Wawata – Moon Dreaming: Daily wisdom guided by Hina, the Māori moon by Dr Hinemoa Elder (Penguin NZ, $30) can be ordered from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington. Dr Elder will appear at Verb Readers & Writers Festival, 2 – 6 November in Wellington.

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