Keeping hapū māmā and unborn pēpi safe through tikanga Māori.

‘Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu. Although small it is precious – like greenstone.’

This whakataukī appears in the Tākai Whakatipu booklet 'Te Kākano' on page 2. It refers to the precious nature of the beginning of a new life.

Keeping pēpi and māmā safe

Before birth, this new life is kept safe and secure through the shelter provided by te whare tangata, the womb. This is where pēpi lives during the entire hāputanga (pregnancy). Protected and nurtured, the whare tangata provides the perfect place for pēpi. It’s complete with all the essential elements required to sustain the beginnings of life until birth, when pēpi emerges into the ‘world of light’.

Page 7 reminds whānau of the need to keep the hapū māmā safe and well too – ‘Protecting māmā and pēpi during this time is very important’.

Tikanga Māori around pregnancy

Some iwi have special tikanga for a hapū wāhine. Pregnancy is about care and awhi for māmā and the unborn pēpi. Some whānau and iwi would provide māmā with special kai (food) and relieve her from stressful or hard work to safeguard her health and the development of pēpi during hapūtanga.

Whaikōrero on the marae ātea by pregnant women is feared in some iwi. They believe that the woman is open to the element of curses, or ‘kanga’, and puts a pregnant woman at risk of passing these on through the generations.

In other iwi, hapū wāhine don’t go into urupā, as this is seen as the realm of Hine nui te pō, the goddess of death, and again may put māmā and pēpi at risk.

Whānau may want to investigate some of their own whānau tikanga around keeping māma and pēpi safe during pregnancy.

Keeping safe during pregnancy in modern times

Although these are concepts that derive from traditional practices and even ancient times, some can be applied to modern ideas and practices. Whānau can benefit from considering how these traditional concepts relate to them today and identify what the risks might be for the hapū māmā, and pēpi.

Alcohol, drugs, violence, parental depression, and inadequate nutrition or support also pose real risks to both pēpi and māmā. What can be done to minimise these risks and keep them safe?

Other resources

The early years last forever | Brainwave Trust(external link)

Helpful resources for whānau