Traditional Māori tikanga to welcome pēpi to the world emphasises the tapu and mana of mokopuna. This tikanga includes tohi, the dedication of pēpi.
Hokia ki ō maunga kia pūrea koe e ngā hau a Tāwhirimātea..
Mokopuna are tapu
When māmā is giving birth she is considered tapu. To be tapu during childbirth is to be under the realm and protection of the atua. When pēpi is born they are born tapu.
Tapu is translated as sacred, restricted and forbidden. Tapu is also associated with the atua being as pure as possible, just like when pēpi is born.
Four traditional rites
Traditionally the safe arrival of pēpi was a time of celebration for whānau Māori. After the birth, ceremonies or rites took place to welcome the piripoho (newborn) to the world.
Mana Ririki reviewed literature of traditional Māori child rearing practices in pre-European times. They discovered 4 rites (ngā kawa).
- These rites emphasised the tapu of mokopuna, especially high-born mokopuna.
- They strengthened the connection of the child to the whānau and the whānau to the child.
- They surrounded pēpi in positive messages, and reminded the adults present of the mana and special qualities of the child.
The tūā rite is for cutting the pito. Newborns would be told in karakia of all their special abilities and how these abilities could be used to reach their potential.
Koroingo or maioha
Koroingo or maioha (welcoming ceremony) took place after the pito had dropped off. Whānau would greet the new pēpi with welcome speeches, and sing waiata and pao (chants) that linked the child’s birth to the creation of the universe. Parents were congratulated. If pēpi was a first born, gifts would be given.
The tohi rite dedicated the newborn to an atua chosen by their parents. A tohunga would lead the ceremony beside a stream, sprinkling pēpi with water using a branch from the karamū tree, and reciting incantations to invoke positive qualities in the child.
Parents chose an atua who would help their mokopuna. Boys were often dedicated to Tūmatauenga, the god of war, and girls to Hineteiwaiwa, the atua associated with pregnancy and birth.
The last rite that bound the baby to the whānau was the pure rite. It was held in the home where whānau taonga, such as cloaks, patu and pounamu, were laid out. Tohunga would recite ritual chants with mythological references to fix the spiritual powers and lay the foundation of knowledge the child was to acquire. Hākari would follow the speeches.
Welcoming pēpi today
When pēpi is born, some whānau use traditional tohi, which is a ceremony to lift the tapu of labour and birth. This is part of the tikanga to cleanse māmā and to dedicate pēpi to atua Māori. A tohi ceremony might take place by an awa, at a marae or any place of significance to the whānau.
Other tikanga may be a christening or baby naming ceremony which are also used to bless and welcome pēpi to the whānau. There are lots of ways whānau might welcome pēpi to their new environment – even having a supper or an afternoon tea for whānau and friends.
Ngā hau e whā
Pēpi might need help adjusting to life outside the safety of the whare tangata (womb). The tikanga in some whānau will see pēpi held up to the 4 winds when pēpi goes home or goes somewhere new. The understanding is that when pēpi is held to the 4 winds their mauri settles and they get used to this new outside world. It is introducing pēpi to the universe in a positive and grounding way.
The practice of lifting pēpi to the four winds might allow whānau to take a few breaths too. Breathing is often talked about by healers and helpers as a relaxation technique, improving mood, lowering blood pressure and helping us to keep calm. As pēpi is adjusting to being out in the world so too are parents getting used to being parents to a newborn.