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Studying faces of the moon

Before her Featherston Booktown event tomorrow, psychiatrist and author Hinemoa Elder spoke with FLYNN NICHOLLS about environment, health, and Maori concepts of time.

Hinemoa Elder is “very excited” to speak at the “famous” Featherston Booktown festival tomorrow about Wawata – Moon Dreaming, her second book for general audiences.

“The book is about Hina, the Maori moon goddess and each of her different names across the month from one of my tribal standpoints, from Te Aupouri in the Far North,” she told the Times-Age.

The book was inspired by a lunar diary Elder kept while writing her previous book, Aroha, which offers “Maori wisdom for a contented life lived in harmony with our planet”.

“Many of us keep diaries of different kinds and, in the Maori world, we have a special kind of diary that some people call a maramataka – in the far north, we call it an okoro,” she said.

“I’ve been keeping these sorts of diaries for many, many years, and one of the things that I continued to struggle with was remembering the different names.”

“On every day and night of the month, Hina, the Maori moon goddess, shows us a different face, and she has a different name, and I was looking for ways to remember each of them across the 30-day cycle.”

Elder said she collected stories from her past maramataka to see what themes and moods were evident on specific days.

“I was noticing certain moods I found myself in on some of these days – what kinds of energies, if you will – and it became apparent that I could write a book about this.”

With New Zealand now celebrating Matariki – one of the world’s first indigenous public holidays to be celebrated in a colonised country – Elder said there had been a great deal of interest in Maori seasons and indigenous wisdom about the moon and stars.

“I thought, okay, well, I can contribute a small part to this wider conversation about bringing forward matauranga Maori, Maori knowledge systems – and hence the book.”

Wawata is about Maori ways of thinking about time, which Elder said are quite different from the “adversarial relationship with time” typical of pakeha [European] culture.

“In pakeha society, we tend to be racing against time or fighting against time – time is often against us, isn’t it?” she said.

“In other cultures, including Maori culture, we have a different approach.”

Tomorrow Elder will be joined by authors Stacey Morrison and Emma Espiner for a conversation about wellness, whanau [family], relationships, and ancestral knowledge, which she indicated will bridge her clinical and writing practices.

“As a health professional, I don’t see it [writing for a general audience] as a transition into something different,” she said.

Elder started practising as a specialist psychiatrist in 2006 and “I’m still working as a psychiatrist,” she said. “I can’t imagine stopping doing that and, indeed, a lot of my reflections in both of my books so far is an expansion of my clinical work.”

She sees a wealth of knowledge and healing potential in te ao Maori that is very helpful for people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“A lot of that knowledge is about self-reflection; nohopuku is another way we frame that in te ao Maori. We learn to value and practice perhaps taking a breath and taking a step back from situations when we’re trying to understand what’s really going on, and to look at things from other perspectives.”

When Elder spoke to the Times-Age, it was raining in Auckland, prompting her to talk about mental health and the environment.

“It’s a wild day here in Tamaki again, and it’s just been extraordinary with the flooding. In many parts of the country, these extreme weather events have made people very anxious,” she said.

“We’ve noticed at Starship Hospital, where I work, that many young people are expressing more and more anxiety about the local extreme weather events, but also more anxiety about climate change and what that means for the future.”

Elder said her books appeal to people interested in predicting and reflecting on their wellbeing, as individuals and in their interdependent relationships.

“They’re about fostering connectedness with each other, and there is a real appetite for that kind of material.”

    Booktown info and tickets at www.booktown.org.nz

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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