Dr Hinemoa Elder: "I see cycles of pent-up female rage."

An excerpt on “angry women” from Hinemoa Elder’s new book

Aroha Terry started a modern-day version of muru in the 1990s called marae justice.

Marae were used as the appropriate place for victims and alleged perpetrators and whānau to meet, and for them all to decide on the consequences as a collective. It was strangely controversial at the time, this return to the muru approach. But Aroha Terry was determined, and for many justice was delivered. Aroha’s legacy lives on in restorative justice practices that continue to this day.

I will never forget travelling with Aroha in China in 1995 to the NGO Conference on Women. It was a privilege to spend time with her and take care of her, as at times she was not well. We did have one hilarious encounter when she asked me to take her to the hospital.

The Chinese doctor did not beat around the bush. As soon as we sat down he said, “You are too fat.”

 And straight off the bat she replied with a raucous laugh, “I know that. Just give me some Chinese medicine to help me feel better.”

We talked a lot on that trip about how as women, Māori women, we hold on to our own special brand of anger, our hūngeingei, at the difficulties faced in seeking and achieving justice and protection for ourselves and our whānau. And that we sit in our anger, we fume, we brood, and that this contributes to our being unwell. Aroha has sadly passed away now, and I am mindful of being part of her legacy for honest and open ways towards healing these angry wounds. She encouraged me to seek stories to illuminate these initially unspeakable feelings as a way to help us all discover our own words.

The story of Kurangaituku speaks to me of our female desires for control and possession. She was the famous birdlike female deity who lived in the ngahere, the forest of the Te Arawa rohe, in and around Rotorua. It is said that she took a young man called Hatupatu prisoner and kept him in her cave with her other treasures.

I have wondered why she might have wanted to have him as her prisoner. Revenge? Seeing him as some sparkly treasure to hoard, to gloat about? As a delicious morsel of food? Maybe he was her natural prey?

Then he escaped. I wonder about the frenzy that must have overtaken her in trying to recapture him.

Tragically, she died in the process. And it must have been a grisly death, amid the hot mud and steam of Te Whakarewarewa. A potent story of female desire to possess and fury at that loss of possession, which didn’t end well.

Riria, one of our female ancestors from Te Hiku o te Ika, the Far North, held onto her anger for many, many years. And she had good cause. She was left to drown when pregnant with twins by her then husband, when he decided he liked her sister better.

She managed to swim to Matapia, an island named for a rock fissure that lets the light through, giving it the appearance of a “shining face”. Hence mata, meaning face, and pia to shine. Riria raised her twin sons on the island. No doubt they grew up shaped by her rage and desire for revenge. When they were ready, they all returned to the mainland, where the twins killed their father and took over his mantle of authority as chiefs.

Stormy female traits are something our society finds particularly unpalatable. In my work as a court report writer I see this up close and personal.

When I am exploring the forensic issues for our taitamāhine, our young women, that come into contact with the court, I see the cycles of pent-up female rage. Many of those involved bend over backwards to explain away and minimise this aggression. We don’t want to see it. We don’t like to call it for what it is. And the result is that our taitamāhine do not get the help they need.

Where does this aggression and destructive energy come from? It breaks my heart to say that most of these young women I have got to know through my work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist have developed their fearsome wrath because of being subjected to violence themselves. This has been taught. Our society is violent, especially towards women.

The young women I see in the courts are the tip of the iceberg. We have all been exposed to some sort of violence. Sadly, the easy access to porn for the young is adding a new dimension to distorted perceptions of what our rangatahi, our young people, regard as normal sexual behaviour.

Mechanistic, often explicitly violent, this kind of sexual contact is now becoming the blueprint for rangatahi of all genders.

We must try to face our own anger, rage and desire to control and possess. These are less palatable aspects of all of our natures. And yes, te taiao, the natural world, can be brutal too. Our unacknowledged anger and frustration creates barriers for our journey through the rest of the month. It devours our integrity of purpose. Now is the time to take stock of our unpredictable natures.

Taken with kind permission from Wawata – Moon Dreaming: Daily wisdom guided by Hina, the Māori  moon by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin, $30), available in bookstores nationwide.

Dr Hinemoa Elder is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who works at Starship Hospital' Child & Family and Mother & Baby Units and various community clinics. She is the author of Aroha, and Wawata - Moon...

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