Ancient Hawaiian Birth

ho’ohanau= the hawaiian word for the profession of obstetrics or midwifery, could be translated as ‘to create the space for giving birth’  from the words ho’o– to make or create and hanau– to give birth

 

In the ancient Hawaiian tradition, the function of birth was the “transference of Spirit and Soul from one dimension to the next via the womb.” (1) The practice of  ho’ohanau (midwifery) had been researched and evolved for thousands of years so that “all experiences connected to the creation of life would not only be as efficient and painless as possible, but ethereal as well.” (1) And thus the role of the Pale Keiki (traditional midwife) was well respected and passed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter, teacher to apprentice, elder to younger.

The Hawaiian practice of ho’oponopono (to set right or create goodness, sometimes referred to as a practice of forgiveness) was a part of the prenatal preparations from the beginning. From the time of conception it was important for an expectant mother to “clean the spiritual house, riding the soul of guilt, putting the mind and heart at rest- not imposing the mental and emotional burden of the mother onto the unborn.” (1) Great care was taken not to expose the pregnant woman to negative thoughts and situations. In fact pregnant Ali’i women (royalty) would be withdrawn to a birthing compound throughout gestation and birth to protect her from physical and psychic impurities.

When the alawela (linea nigra, the dark line that sometimes appears on a pregnant belly) reached the mother’s piko (navel), the midwife knew that the birth was imminent and would announce “The alawela has met the piko!” and the team would prepare for the birth, which traditionally would include building a seperate birthing house or structure. The friends and family who would gather outside during the birth would “compose birth chants, read natural phenomena, and search for Ancestral communications. The father of the child would surround the perimeter of the birthing compound with his Ancestral male images to protect the mother and their unborn child…” (2) During labor, the traditional Hawaiian midwife would encourage the mama to walk to loosen the muscles and ease tension, she would also administer sacred Hawaiian herbs as well as use a form of hypnotism or meditation which involved breathing and repeated mantras which “lifted her suffering, allowing ‘both [midwife and mama] to concentrate on the birthing process.” (2)

Most ancient Hawaiian women would birth in a squatting position with the midwife’s assistant kneeling behind the mother as a backrest, as the child emerged the midwife would hold the child up and shout “ike ‘ia na maka i ke Ao!” (the eyes have seen the Light!)

After the birth of the placenta, the traditional Hawaiian midwife would cut the cord with a bamboo knife, tie it off with a special string, and place a drop of mother’s milk and a bit of arrowroot powder onto the umbilicus. The placenta and umbilical cord were considered an extension of the body and thus valued and treated with respect in their burial “to create holistic harmony and facilitate Spiritual Evolvement.” The placenta (‘iewe) would be washed and buried with a tree seedling. After the umbilical cord stump fell off, it would be taken to one of several known sacred places and put into a hole in the lava covered with a rock. (2)

 

Haumea is the Hawaiian goddess of the sacred earth and birth, as well as Pele’s (the famous volcano goddess’s) mother. Haumea who gave birth herself to many generations of people from different places of her body (one generation was born from her shoulders, one from her knees, another from her forehead, etc) is said to have shown the people how to give birth through their sacred thighs. My favorite story about Haumea is one in which she appears to a womyn who is having a difficult birth and is getting ready to undergo surgery, and she says,

“In our land babies are born naturally without cutting open the mother.”

She then assisted with an herbal remedy and incantations and the birth proceeded quickly and easily. I find myself wondering… what herbal remedy? … could it be the flowering Hau tree (also named after the goddess Haumea?) whose slimy tea is said to aid the slipperiness of the birth passage?

Other things about ancient Hawaiian birth can be learned by reading the rocks. There are petroglyphs in several places around the Hawaiian Islands. I believe many of them are related to families and birth. In one family scene, you can see that one hand of the mother is highlighted with extra long digits, and additional ray-like lines highlighting like a halo the sacred gateway through which a child just emerged. (3)

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… I believe this is depicting a mother who just received her newly born baby with her own hands.

 

 

 

 

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In another, the description reads ”appendages in the genital area are unexplained” (3)….. could this be a footling breach birth? I think so.

 

 

 

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One of my favorites is the birth scene at Puako which clearly depicts a twin birth- a womyn with an open circular vulva, a newborn girl up at her shoulder touching her face, and a newborn boy at her right arm being held upside down by the father.  (4)

 

 

The presence of vulvae, pregnant wimyn, and birthing wimyn at these “legendary places… manifestations of belief and power, prayer and offering, made by ritual experts…” (3) tells us of the sacredness the Hawaiian people held for wimyn and birth; the honoring of the divine feminine.

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For Polynesian wimyn, birth is not about pain and suffering… in fact, they were shocked to witness missionary women screaming and suffering throughout labor and birth. Every part of the birth journey from conception to treatment of the placenta and postpartum care was treated as sacred, and I think this is the important distinction… the role of the midwife or birth attendant then is to create a sacred space for giving birth.

If we can remember how to honor birth as so many of our ancient, native ancestors have, if we can make it sacred in our own way and give birth the respect it deserves as the ceremony of giving Life and Light to the Earth, then maybe our mamababies will stop being disrespected, harmed, and traumatized… then we will birth a world of peace.

 

 

References:

(1) Daughters of Haumea: Women of Ancient Hawaii (Na Kaikamahine ‘o Haumea), Lucia Tarallo Jensen & Natalie Mahina Jensen; Pueo Press 2005

(2) “Hawaiian Beliefs and Customs During Birth, Infancy, and Childhood”, Mary Kawena Pukui; from Occasional Papers of Bernice P. Bishop, Museum of Polynesian Ethnology and Natural History, V16, No. 17, March 20, 1942

(3) Spirit of Place,  Georgia Lee & Edward Stasack; Easter Island Foundation 1999

(4) Hawaiian Petroglyphs, J. Halley Cox & Edward Stasack; Bishop Museum Press 1970

Ancient Hawaiian Birth

ho’ohanau= the hawaiian word for the profession of obstetrics or midwifery, could be translated as ‘to create the space for giving birth’  from the words ho’o– to make or create and hanau– to give birth

I was fortunate to live and practice midwifery in Hawaii for a few years, during that time I researched the traditional Hawaiian birth rituals and practices in order to educate myself and to give respect and honor, as a non-Hawaiian person stepping into this culture. I visited the University of Hawaii library and was privileged to read many texts that are not in circulation. These are my perspectives, except where quoted. ~ Lightfoot

In the ancient Hawaiian tradition, the function of birth was the “transference of Spirit and Soul from one dimension to the next via the womb.” (1) The practice of  ho’ohanau (midwifery) had been researched and evolved for thousands of years so that “all experiences connected to the creation of life would not only be as efficient and painless as possible, but ethereal as well.” (1) And thus the role of the Pale Keiki (traditional midwife) was well respected and passed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter, teacher to apprentice, elder to younger.

The Hawaiian practice of ho’oponopono (to set right or create goodness, sometimes referred to as a practice of forgiveness) was a part of the prenatal preparations from the beginning. From the time of conception it was important for an expectant mother to “clean the spiritual house, riding the soul of guilt, putting the mind and heart at rest- not imposing the mental and emotional burden of the mother onto the unborn.” (1) Great care was taken not to expose the pregnant woman to negative thoughts and situations. In fact pregnant Ali’i women (royalty) would be withdrawn to a birthing compound throughout gestation and birth to protect her from physical and psychic impurities.

When the alawela (linea nigra, the dark line that sometimes appears on a pregnant belly) reached the mother’s piko (navel), the midwife knew that the birth was imminent and would announce “The alawela has met the piko!” and the team would prepare for the birth, which traditionally would include building a seperate birthing house or structure. The friends and family who would gather outside during the birth would “compose birth chants, read natural phenomena, and search for Ancestral communications. The father of the child would surround the perimeter of the birthing compound with his Ancestral male images to protect the mother and their unborn child…” (2) During labor, the traditional Hawaiian midwife would encourage the mama to walk to loosen the muscles and ease tension, she would also administer sacred Hawaiian herbs as well as use a form of hypnotism or meditation which involved breathing and repeated mantras which “lifted her suffering, allowing ‘both [midwife and mama] to concentrate on the birthing process.” (2)

Most ancient Hawaiian women would birth in a squatting position with the midwife’s assistant kneeling behind the mother as a backrest, as the child emerged the midwife would hold the child up and shout “ike ‘ia na maka i ke Ao!” (the eyes have seen the Light!)

After the birth of the placenta, the traditional Hawaiian midwife would cut the cord with a bamboo knife, tie it off with a special string, and place a drop of mother’s milk and a bit of arrowroot powder onto the umbilicus. The placenta and umbilical cord were considered an extension of the body and thus valued and treated with respect in their burial “to create holistic harmony and facilitate Spiritual Evolvement.” The placenta (‘iewe) would be washed and buried with a tree seedling. After the umbilical cord stump fell off, it would be taken to one of several known sacred places and put into a hole in the lava covered with a rock. (2)

Haumea is the Hawaiian goddess of the sacred earth and birth, as well as Pele’s (the famous volcano goddess’s) mother. Haumea who gave birth herself to many generations of people from different places of her body (one generation was born from her shoulders, one from her knees, another from her forehead, etc) is said to have shown the people how to give birth through their sacred thighs. My favorite story about Haumea is one in which she appears to a womyn who is having a difficult birth and is getting ready to undergo surgery, and she says,

“In our land babies are born naturally without cutting open the mother.”

She then assisted with an herbal remedy and incantations and the birth proceeded quickly and easily. I find myself wondering… what herbal remedy? … could it be the flowering Hau tree (also named after the goddess Haumea?) whose slimy tea is said to aid the slipperiness of the birth passage?

Other things about ancient Hawaiian birth can be learned by reading the rocks. There are petroglyphs in several places around the Hawaiian Islands. I believe many of them are related to families and birth. In one family scene, you can see that one hand of the mother is highlighted with extra long digits, and additional ray-like lines highlighting like a halo the sacred gateway through which a child just emerged. (3)

I believe this is depicting a mother who just received her newly born baby with her own hands (this is not what the scholars are saying).

In another, the description reads ”appendages in the genital area are unexplained” (3)….. could this be a footling breach birth? I think so.

One of my favorites is the birth scene at Puako which clearly depicts a twin birth- a womyn with an open circular vulva, a newborn girl up at her shoulder touching her face, and a newborn boy at her right arm being held upside down by the father.  (4)

The presence of vulvae, pregnant wimyn, and birthing wimyn at these “legendary places… manifestations of belief and power, prayer and offering, made by ritual experts…” (3) tells us of the sacredness the Hawaiian people held for wimyn and birth; the honoring of the divine feminine.

For Polynesian wimyn, birth is not about pain and suffering… in fact, they were shocked to witness missionary women screaming and suffering throughout labor and birth. Every part of the birth journey from conception to treatment of the placenta and postpartum care was treated as sacred, and I think this is the important distinction… the role of the midwife or birth attendant then is to create a sacred space for giving birth.

If we can remember how to honor birth as so many of our ancient, native ancestors have, if we can make it sacred in our own way and give birth the respect it deserves as the ceremony of giving Life and Light to the Earth, then maybe our mamababies will stop being disrespected, harmed, and traumatized… then we will birth a world of peace.

References:

(1) Daughters of Haumea: Women of Ancient Hawaii (Na Kaikamahine ‘o Haumea), Lucia Tarallo Jensen & Natalie Mahina Jensen; Pueo Press 2005

(2) “Hawaiian Beliefs and Customs During Birth, Infancy, and Childhood”, Mary Kawena Pukui; from Occasional Papers of Bernice P. Bishop, Museum of Polynesian Ethnology and Natural History, V16, No. 17, March 20, 1942

(3) Spirit of Place,  Georgia Lee & Edward Stasack; Easter Island Foundation 1999

(4) Hawaiian Petroglyphs, J. Halley Cox & Edward Stasack; Bishop Museum Press 1970

Emer-gently

 

I want to share this brochure with the world!  It was created by my mentor, Sister MorningStar and the Global Midwifery Council.  It’s birth was in response to a worldview that sees birth, in general, as an emergency…. instead of the normal, gentle emergence of a new being into the world.

I am sharing these brochures at all events I teach and attend, as well as any place that has public health brochures on display. And I encourage you to please print them out using the free download or purchase the durable glossy brochures to share with your community!

This is how I approach it with the public places (think public library) “I have some public health brochures on pregnancy and childbearing created by the Global Midwifery Council. Would you be willing to display these with your other public health information? Thank you!”

I’m also visioning a way to get this information to our maidens….  in the schools?  somehow included into the sex education curriculum? as homeschool program?  for both our young wimyn and young men!  Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas by commenting below. AND please take these ideas and run with them! We are co-creating the new earth together, sister to sister!

 

The Opening

alex_grey_birth

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more.”― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

A child’s song

“Thed6b819_962fc55ac31e439898f2c94a439abbaere is a tribe in Africa where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.
And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts it’s knee, someone picks them up and sings their song. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.  If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. They sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when the person is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing — for the last time– the song to that person. “
Sending you blessed peaceful moments so that you may listen in your heart for the song of your baby!
Peace,
Catherine

On Becoming a Mother

d6b819_6e9f57679bee436a9a317fc2e29303b9In celebration of Mother’s Day, I would like to share with you one of my journal entries from several years ago, where I was reflecting on Becoming a Mother….
“I discovered a new life growing inside me and suddenly the normal everyday thing of ‘having a baby’ seemed miraculous because it was happening to me! I began to truly know and love my body– I felt like a walking sacred temple and everyone who saw me knew it, too.
In labor, I learned the power of trusting in myself and releasing to the ancient inner wisdom, once more questioning authority and seeking out my own answers. Yet I also learned to rely on others, to bring together a circle of support and trust in them as well.
I held my child, looked into his eyes, and in an instant knew what it really means to love– pure, unconditional, no-matter-what, to-the-day-I-die Love. And I learned what Spirit really is, for I was holding Pure Spirit in my arms.
Learning to embrace the unique expression of my spirituality, to embrace and express my divine feminine, was wonderfully freeing– like coming home. And I discovered ways to continue cultivating this energy in my life, in ritual and celebration of the Earth Mother, whom I am a part of. “
Sacredness, Release, Trust, Love…. these gifts have served me well on my mothering path. When we honor the sacred time of “becoming a mother”, we allow the new mama to discover the gifts that she will need on her expanding journey of motherhood, as well.
Welcome to the sacred circle, mama!
xoxo
C

Letter to a Birthing Mama

d6b819_ede5cc22ff8b4d909b2617291a58c51dMama~ You have GOT this birth… you got it, on your own. Everything you need to birth your baby is right inside of you… you truly don’t need anything else. In fact it’s all the external things that threaten to get in the way of a birthing mama’s path, yes even the doula, sometimes.  Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t call one of us when it’s time… it can be very handy having one of us doulas around, for sure! But be careful where you are placing your power, because it truly, truly is ALL yours.
YOU are the force and power of the universe at your birthing time…
YOU and you alone can Hold that power in your body, and allow it to move through you, and deliver it into this world… into your arms.
We like to be there (as doulas, midwives, doctors, husbands, grandmas) because it is an amazing thing to witness and touch and be a small part of…. and if in some small way we feel that we have had the privilege to serve this Goddess of birth, then it enriches our lives for the better too.  But never forget… You are the Goddess of birth… not the birthing place, not the midwife, not the doula…. any and all of those things can change, but the power of birth stays the same…. Because it is you, it always has been… it was inside of you before you ever conceived this child, it lives inside of you now, and it will be inside of you even stronger after you birth your baby, forevermore.
So enjoy this journey, mama, even with all its twists and turns, peaks and valleys, and long seemingly endless plains!  Enjoy being with the only one who was there when you conceived this child, as you bring him into the world, together….because that’s all you need.    You’ve got this!
[I wrote this letter to a mama who had just found out that on top of recently switching birthing locations and careproviders (a couple weeks before birthing day) that it didn’t look like I, as her doula, would be able to be there, either….. and I realized that the greatest compliment I could ever receive (as one who works with women) is “I didn’t really need you…. I’m glad that you were there…. but I could’ve done this on my own!”…. and yes, that is me and my baby in the picture, moments after his emergence!]

Perceptions of Birth: Expansion vs. Contraction

Images, ideas, and stories of birth surround us everyday. What we are sometimes left with is a skewed and mostly inaccurate conception of the birthing time.  Consequently, we are not able to be open to the experience that is wanting to flow through us. Can it be different? YES!        It’s all about Awareness–  see where you are putting your focus and attention, see the limiting concepts you have in place or have adopted from our culture, and if what you see isn’t aligned with what you want- ask for it to be different. Have a willingness to release the old ideas and embrace something new.  This blog post is a start… a beginning to the seeing… a way to begin to Open ourselves to the endless possibilities of a new way of birthing…

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Look at the picture above. When you focus on the black portion of the picture, you perceive an image of a vase; when you shift your focus to the white portion of the picture, you perceive a completely different image of two faces. What you put your focus and awareness on thus becomes your reality. When you focus on the black, this is a picture of a vase- that is the reality. When you shift your focus to the background, there is a figure-ground shift and this becomes a picture of two faces looking at each other- that becomes your new reality.
This principle is true in every part of our lives- what we focus on expands, our thoughts create our reality, energy flows where awareness goes, what we think about comes about.
How does this play out in the birth journey?
Imagine that you are in labor… you or your partner is timing each contraction, you are aware of how often you are having contractions and how long each contraction lasts. Your partner says, “Boy, that one seemed stronger than the last one, huh?” and you become aware of how strong each contraction is compared to the others. Someone you encountered along the way (a book, a friend, childbirth educator, care provider) had referred to contractions as ‘labor pains’ and that idea took hold in your subconscious mind. So your awareness is not only on the contraction but on the sensation that you experience as ‘labor pain’.  Someone may even ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 1- “not feeling much at all” to 10- “the worst pain you’ve ever felt”
But wait a minute…. in labor, you experience ‘contractions’ for only 45 seconds to a minute out of every 3-5 minutes. So what is the experience during the remaining time, when you are not ‘in contraction’? Most of labor is the time in between contractions.  During a 12 hour labor, in which contractions are coming every 4 minutes and lasting 1 minute, the time spent ‘in contraction’ is only 3 hours. What happened during the other 9 hours?
If our focus determines our perception, by placing our focus on the contractions our perception and experience of labor is contracted, closed, and limited.  We encounter this state of being in Contraction whenever we experience stress or fear. In Contraction, we are closed off from our external environment, protective of our bodies, and ready to fight or flee the perceived danger. When we are in a state of Contraction we are disconnected from ourselves and all others  and our physical body is being flooded with stress hormones (which interestingly can slow or halt the progression of labor.)
State of Contraction:
  • Closed-off
  • in Fear
  • Limited
  • Disconnected
  • useful for protection and survival
Let’s make a shift together now… a shift of awareness that takes us from what has been the foreground of our awareness in birthing to the background. It may take some time to adjust your focus, and that’s ok.  What is then the background of the birth journey? Most of your journey will be spent in this background place. Just as in our figure-ground perception, it is the opposite of where our focus has been placed- contraction- so let’s call it Expansion.
Imagine that you are on your birth journey… you and your partner are relaxing comfortably and enjoying this quality time together. Your partner says, “Wow sweetie, you are breathing and relaxing so well!” and you become more and more aware of how soft and relaxed your body feels.  Someone you encountered along the way (a book, friend, childbirth educator, doula or midwife) referred to the rhythmic sensations of the birth journey as  ‘waves of energy’ and that idea took root in your subconscious mind. So your awareness continues to float in this space of expansion, even as occasionally a wave will move through you, always bringing you back to this peaceful space. You are supported by your carefully chosen birth support team  who protect your birth space with positive, affirming words and actions allowing you to stay in this beautiful experience of expansion as you birth your baby.
When we are in a state of Expansion we are open to all possibilities, our bodies are able to relax and open, our hearts are open to experience peace, love and joy. We are connected mind-body-spirit and our physical bodies are flooded with the hormones responsible for feelings of trust, love and well-being (which interestingly are also the hormones responsible for birthing a baby.)
State of Expansion:
  • Openness
  • in Love
  • Limitless
  • Connected
  • useful for Growth and Reproduction
Everything about the process of becoming a parent is about Expansion. Expansion is the energy of Creativity, just as we need to be expansive and open in order to receive new creative ideas; we need to be expansive and open in the creation of new life.  At the first thought of conceiving a child we open ourselves to new possibilities; at conception we expand our senses and open our body to merge with another; throughout the pregnancy our belly expands with the growth of our baby and we open our mind to new knowledge; our body opens in new ways during birth; and our heart expands with pure love.
In what other ways can you expand your awareness and allow a figure-ground shift to take place. Birthing is a fertile time of becoming…. opening…. creating… allowing… surrendering… to who we really are.
Enjoy the journey~ Catherine