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Turia: Where do babies come from? Ask your koro!

Nga Maia Hui a Tau; 2006; Te Rangimarie Centre, Christchurch; Monday 16 October 2006; 1pm Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party Where do babies come from? Ask your koro!

I am so happy to be here today, to celebrate with a stunning Maori organisation, the kaupapa of birth, of birthing, of whanau.

There is nothing that constitutes more of a miracle in my mind, than the affirmation of our birthing rights. The wonder of the womb never ceases to amaze me, and the capacity of whanau to care for, to love, to nurture each other through the birthing process.

It is whanau that has provided me with so many awe-inspiring, and traumatising experiences of haputanga.

In our whanau we seem to have had it all. My proudest qualification to be here today, is as a grandmother of 26, and a great-grandmother of eight.

A number of my grandchildren have been home births, others nurtured through Te Oranganui midwifery services; others in hospital.

We have experienced the devastation of losing mokopuna; the pain of miscarriage; the silent torture of infertility. I was thinking particularly of our grief yesterday, Baby Loss Awareness Day - and thought how true was their theme, a little life, not a little loss. And just this last week, I have been by the hospital side of one of my children, trying to remedy the aftermath of poor gynaecological care.

We have shared and cared for whangai pepi; we have been ecstatic to hear the news that the mokopuna is giving us another mokopuna; we have stories and tears and memories of a lifetime associated with all the babies who have touched our lives.

And so, the opportunity to relive those memories by being with a group of midwives whose business it is, to bring Maori children safely into this world, was one that I have been looking forward to.

And I come here, also, to celebrate. Last Thursday was the anniversary of my tenth year in Parliament - and on that very day, the first Maori Party Bill, the Repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act, was drawn out of the ballot.

Some might say it is luck of the draw. I believe otherwise.

The process of private members bills coming before the House is that they are submitted to a ballot - a bit of a lucky dip (except no money crosses hands). Some bills may never see the light of day.

Our Bill to Repeal the Act of twentieth century confiscation, had been in the ballot for a mere thirty minutes before it was drawn.

I am a firm believer in te hunga wairua; and I believe that is also why the first hui I come to following the introduction of our Bill, is one which celebrates the reclamation of matauranga Maori birthing practice.

The relationship we have with our whenua; the spiritual bond with Papa-tua-nuku, our connection with the very source of life itself gave rise to the passionate protest of tangata whenua against the Foreshore and Seabed Bill.

And so I think of tangata whenua - mana whenua - and rejoice in the connections between the sustainer of life within the womb and the source of nourishment after birth, the earth itself, in both cases, whenua.

The kaupapa of Nga Maia, the focus on Mama, pepi and whanau, the inspiration and sustenance we all gain from the precious kakano, is a kaupapa of growth, of energy, of passion.

In our collective tribal memories, we recall the precious role of our kuia Maioha - the significance of the karanga welcoming the newborn into Te Ao Marama.

And we treasure the reply to that first call, the ti waha, as baby expels that breath of life - Tihei Mauri Ora!

But who else was there in te whare kohanga? Our kuia, the mama, the pepi?

What about koro?

I really admire your vision to be proactive in your advocacy for Maori birthing whanau; your mission - ki te whakaohooho i te mauri o nga tikanga o ai whanau o tënä o tënä.

And as I look here, at our hui in Te Rangimarie, I wonder too, where are all our tane?

Is the gender isolation, the separation of our whaea from their brothers, uncles, fathers, koro, another after-effect of colonization? And yet it was a Pakeha man, who initiated a valuable history in the art and industry of midwifery.

One hundred and two years ago, the Premier of New Zealand, Richard Seddon, expressed his fears that the country’s steadily falling birth rate threatened its standing as a colony in the British Empire.

Something had to be done.

And so it came to pass, that in 1904 the Midwives Act was introduced, establishing the first State maternity service in New Zealand and standardising the training of midwives.

But then, it would seem, the role of men in midwifery disappeared from public view.

Indeed, fathers were not welcome to be directly involved in the care of baby until the late 1970s. Even then they often needed permission to attend the birth.

The question I would like us to consider is, was this the same for our whanau Maori? The answer may lie in the patai we put to Koro.

I want to share a comment from Ukaipo in 1998, which reminds me of the fullness of whanau ora, in the context of childbirth.

“My mother’s midwife was her eldest son, my brother. There were no midwives in those days, a member of the whanau did it all. If any of our whanau were having a baby, they would go and get him. My generation knew the role that he played.

The old kuia, they were always there to assist, but he did it all. My cousin was also responsible for delivering our babies, so there were two of them in our whanau. Both of what you would call midwives today, were males”.

It made me think, too, of the legacy of Tuteremoana, from some nineteen or twenty generations ago.

At his birth, his grand-uncle Tuhotoariki composed a well known oriori or song chant, He oriori mo Tuteremoana, which has survived to this day. That oriori is a virtual treasure chest, a bibliography brimming full of spiritual teachings and practical lessons to not just guide Ngai Tara, Rangitane, or Ngati Awanuiarangi - but indeed many other genealogical lines after him.

That oriori led me on a journey of discovery, thinking how our tane had been involved in days of old, not just as observers or interested bystanders, but cutting the cord, delivering babies, bonding in-utero.

Our men were involved in mirimiri, massaging, singing, bonding with the baby yet to be born.

Those vital connections we develop with our children, prior to their passage through the birth channel, have the potential to establish an incredible foundation for life.

You know that old catchcry - I was but a sparkle in my mother’s eye - for tamariki Maori, the nurturing of te käkano i ruia mai i Rangiätea, is central to whanau ora.

How do we perceive the seed we have conceived? What are the tikanga, the kaupapa, we abide by, as we develop our love for our children?

Do we think of our babies wanting to be born as living souls who walk the earth with us? Do we talk to them, caress them with karakia, embrace them with waiata, whakapapa, moteatea?

Do we celebrate the union of Rangi the Sky Father and Papatuanuku the Earth Mother? Their children to whom they had given life and whom they had nurtured?

When Elsdon Best wrote his “Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days” in 1934, he expressed amazement that a man of Tuhoe could recite no less than 406 songs from memory; and that another elder could relay over 1400 personal names in his articulation of his whakapapa.

They were not exceptions, early contestants for Mastermind. Our people have been trained, and mentored in the art of recall. Taught to hold onto detail, to read the signs, to call on the memory. Is it little wonder then, that we know that those months in-utero are crucial to the foundation of a healthy mauri?

From what I have been told, our men would know to read the signs of mate wahine, to explain the phenomenon of phantom birth, to describe the loss of blood, the process of childbirth.

And this was just what was done. The mystery of birth de-mystified, just part of life.

It is stories like this that lead me to challenge the tendency of some doctors to 'medicalise' pregnancy and the birthing process. I was incensed by a report this year from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist who called the initiative of the British Government to support the case for homebirths, "ludicrous and dangerous".

For from being an isolated medical event, a hospital entry, a specialist referral, birthing should be a miracle that is also absolutely just part of life.

The ordinary combined with the remarkable.

I am inspired by the health service at Papakura Marae in Auckland which enables pepi to be born on a marae, being grounded in their ancestral home from the moment of birth.

And that is also why I celebrate the involvement of the whole whanau, including men, in the wonder of birth. I look at my sons and son in laws, my grandsons, my nephews, and feel so proud that they have experienced the privilege of bringing life into this world.

And it makes me wonder, have we come full circle? We may need to ask Koro if this is so. I want finally, to commend Karen Guilliland of the New Zealand College of Midwives; and to congratulate Nga Maia o Aotearoa me Te Waipounamu, for your staunch commitment, your energy, and your dedication to keeping the kaupapa of birthing alive.

And I want to leave the last words to the inspiration of Mina Timu Timu, kaumatua for the College of Midwives since 1994, and founder of Taranaki’s first maternity service. I want to leave the last thoughts to Whaea Mina:

“I revere those gifts that have been given to me by my ancestors and I seek to pass them on to the next generation in order that they be protected”.

I wish you all strength as you continue in your efforts to revere the gifts passed on, to treasure nga whare tangata, to keep yourself culturally safe as you indeed seek the good health and wellbeing of whanau, birthing women, nurturing partners and babies.

Our future, is literally, in your hands.


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