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Tū te turuturu nō Hine-te-iwaiwa: Mana wahine geographies of birth in Aotearoa New Zealand

This thesis examines the embodied, spiritual and spatial experiences of maternity for Māori women. It reveals how colonial and patriarchal discourses are embedded and embodied in the spaces of childbirth in Aotearoa New Zealand. I use a mana wahine (Māori women’s) framework to critique discourses that continue to marginalise and isolate Māori women and their whānau (family group) during their maternity experiences. Importantly, this research highlights the possibilities of reclaiming and reconfiguring mana wahine in both theory and practice. In doing so, I conceptualise new geographies that account for, and celebrate, uniquely Māori understandings and expressions of maternity. Mana wahine provides a much needed theoretical framework that enables Māori women to (re)define and (re)present our lived realities on our own terms. A qualitative mixed method approach of interviews, solicited diary writing and a marae based wānanga is employed to examine the lived experiences of birth for ten first time mothers, five midwives and a wānanga of 17 women and their whānau. In total 32 women participated in various phases of the research. Empirical material is arranged around four key themes. The first considers the ways in which colonialism is lived and embodied in maternity experiences for many whānau. New formations of colonialism are evident in the silence that can surround the maternal body for women in this research. The second theme highlights how whakapapa (genealogy), wairua (spirituality), and whenua (land/placenta), can provide a powerful reconceptualisation of the maternal body that offers new possibilities for thinking about maternal embodiment, the spaces of birth (both material and discursive) and maternity policy and practice. Third, it is argued that many women and whānau occupy a number of in-between maternity spaces as a result of our colonised realities. As such, considerations of space from a mana wahine perspective can serve to destabilise the dualisms that dominate the spatial politics of birth in Aotearoa. Finally, this thesis posits that by reclaiming the collective and spiritual spaces of birth and afterbirth it is possible to transform and empower women and whānau in their maternity experiences. This thesis responds to a scarcity of academic scholarship on mana wahine maternities. It advances mana wahine and feminist geographical knowledges by providing a critical spatial perspective on Māori women’s maternal geographies. It is argued that reclaiming mana wahine maternities has the potential to transform women’s birthing experiences by (re)asserting the tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) of women, of their babies, and of their whānau, and thus the rangatiratanga of Māori communities, hapū (sub-tribe/sub-tribes) and iwi (tribe/tribes).
Type of thesis
Simmonds, N. B. (2014). Tū te turuturu nō Hine-te-iwaiwa: Mana wahine geographies of birth in Aotearoa New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8821
University of Waikato
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