|Māori¹ maternal knowledges are intimately tied to ancestors, to ancestral knowledges, and to whenua (land).² Iwi (tribes), hapū (smaller tribal groupings), and whānau (families)³ have their own maternal knowledges, which are woven into their cosmologies, histories, songs, carvings, place names, chants, and incantations. These knowledges, though spatially and temporally specific, speak to the sanctity of the maternal body, the power and prestige of women’s reproductive capabilities, and the empowering collective approach to raising children. Māori knowledges pertaining to pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting were imparted generation to generation as they were lived, embodied and emplaced by our ancestors, sustaining the sacred and empowering approach to maternities within our communities.
This chapter considers the challenges and possibilities of reclaiming Māori maternal knowledges and their associated practices and ceremonies for Māori women and whānau in contemporary Aotearoa-New Zealand. Three key themes frame this chapter. First, I consider the ways in which colonialism has served to silence Māori maternal knowledges to such an extent that whānau are left trying to find meaning in the voices, knowledges, and advices of others. Indigenous women are largely birthing within Western ideologies and institutions that do not adequately provide for Indigenous ways of being and birthing. The chapter then considers the ways in which women and whānau are reclaiming ancient knowledges and practices in new and contemporary ways. I seek to illustrate the ways in which traditional practices and ritual customs have the potential to transform and empower individual and collective experiences of birth and afterbirth. The chapter ends with arguing that Indigenous maternities, Māori maternities, are an important site of decolonization. Reclaiming the messages and embodied practices left to us by our ancestors can provide an empowering collective approach to pregnancy, birth, and afterbirth, and can facilitate a “decolonized pathway” (Simpson 28) into and through the world for our children and for generations to come.