A Womb Between Realms: The Nature of Women's Bodies in Creation Pūrākau

Hall, Elizabeth
Woodard, Wiremu
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Master of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy
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Auckland University of Technology

This dissertation explores the nature of Māori women’s bodies through pūrākau about atua Māori, using a pūrākau methodology. This topic considers the significance of wāhine Māori bodies in empowering and healing Māori whānau. Within a reflection on specific pūrākau about Papatūānuku and Hinetītama/Hinenuitepō, themes of nourishment, resilience, death, and transformation emerge, emphasising the body as a source of feminine power and a site of new life. These findings are linked to my own experience of pregnancy and motherhood at the time of writing. I use my journey through these stories to explore how pūrākau might aid women during times of transition. This dissertation explores the roles of Te Whare Tangata and Ūkaipō that emerge in stories of atua wahine. Wāhine bodies are presented as a source of containment and nourishment for their descendants, which guide them from Te Pō into Te Ao Mārama. The conduit nature of women’s bodies allows them to grapple with death, demonstrating how the path into Te Pō is essential for life. My interaction with the selected pūrākau explores the transformative quality to women’s bodies and the metamorphoses that result from trauma, loss, or death. To work effectively with children, it is essential that we develop positive, compassionate relationships with the people who care for those children. Many of those caregivers will be women and mothers. The mother-infant dyad is the first relationship a child experiences, starting in the womb. The experience of the mother’s body directly affects the infant—both in utero and during breastfeeding and early care. Our perceptions of mother’s bodies flow into our treatment of mothers; what roles we expect them to inhabit and how we work with them as clinicians. For these reasons, an understanding of wāhine Māori bodies is crucial to our work as child and adolescent psychotherapists in Aotearoa. Women and mothers are a central part of work with children, and they are vital to our work with Māori. A fuller appreciation of the experience of the feminine in Te Ao Māori could enhance how we work with mothers, whānau, and tamariki in their journeys towards healing.

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