Aloha e Na hoapapa a me na kanaka ma Maoliworld-
Here is the second installation of probably a 4-part response to a question on Health and Sexuality... this time I share with you some teachings from other Native women, two specifically who dedicate their lives to this work.
First I will say that as far as I can tell, this parallels with the Hawaiian practice of the women's "hale pe'a". That is, women in their menstrual time are invited to spend time with each other only, not intermingling with men at that time. I feel in my research, listening to the elders of different peoples, and in my own personal practice, that this cultural practice was never meant to subjugate women. Rather that the paternalistic view of our society for the last several hundred years has actually colored what we think of these ancient practices, as were held by women all over the world.
A commonly held misconception in our community tells us that the Hawaiian view of women in their menstrual time were anciently considered 'dirty' or even poisonous. Even some of the male kupuna that I have spoken with (usually Christian) have perpetuated this idea. However, in my personal experiences with these practices, and in my conversation with other women who share them, they are healing and bring balance to the body and to the community. In my conversations with Hawaiian women of certain families on the Big Island and on Kaua'i, the concept of our menstrual time is said to be a time for the woman to cleanse her body and energy, a time for us to collect ourselves and come to balance.
As has been said by the Elders, if we think about it, our blood is the only blood not shed through injury or violence. And the power of women completely and totally freaks out the paternalistic mind of our society, so even when I and others disclose about these practices, there is sometimes a backlash. So to unknown strangers I release this medicine today upon request: again, thanks to you, Kaohi.... here is the medicine...
Stories from other indigenous women
I’ve had a chance to speak with other po’e ‘oiwi from around the world, and there are some wise women who stand out from me in terms of women’s sexuality and community health:
Abuela Margurita from Mexico- She has a whole series of teachings on women’s health that she shares every year when she comes to California, and then Vermont, for various gatherings of indigenous people. I met her in Vermont. She has a specific teaching for women who are still menstruating, which she gives permission to share generally:
-Gather and prepare your menstrual blood every day to give back to the earth. You can bury it alone by itself, but the best is to do the following:
-Chose a plant that you wish to make a relationship with (it can be a food plant for your family or a beautiful flower).
-For each day of your moon time, bury the blood two hand width’s away from the flower. If you bury it too close it will ‘burn’ the plant. (I have seen this happen, one time I did this and buried mine too close and it literally looked like someone had put a fire a little too close to that poor plant… but it recovered…)
-It is said in her culture that if we do this, the fruits and flowers of the plants we choose will become very strong for our families. The flowers will be of special beauty, and the fruits will be of special nutrition. If someone is sick in the family they can eat the fruit from that tree and through the family’s mana (passed on through the blood) the person will be restored.
Several Mayan Elders speak of women on their menstrual time walking up and down the rows of the corn, again so that the blood returns to the earth, feeds the plants. It is considered very good fertilizer to them.
A Cherokee Elder of a very long lineage that I work with asks us to settle our minds as we are on this time of the month, because whatever we do to settle during this time has the direct effect of settling our community. In this tradition, the blood is also offered directly back to the Earth, sometimes in a very special place where all the women go to offer.
Grandmother Nanatasis Bluto-Deventhal, from Vermont Abenaki- Also another incredible resource person for women’s health. In this tradition, women have a separate menstruation space away from their husbands. In modern times this means that each woman has her own bedroom/creative space that she can retreat to during her menstrual time. (rather like the Hawaiian hale pe’a, the menstrual house). She teaches us not to have sex with men during our menstrual time, as this interferes with the mana between men and women, it will mess up her hormones and bring down her power as well as his.
I have incorporated these practices into my personal life, and I can say from experience that I am less cranky, have no cramping, and never feel sick when I observe these practices of honoring my moon time. I try not to do too much body work (such as massaging other people) when I’m menstruating, although because of my job sometimes I must, so I use salt as an energy balancer. I take about 6 tablespoons of salt and put it in my pocket before a day of interacting with men or giving body work sessions, and then offer that to the earth at the end of my day, along with my menstrual blood, with apology. Sometimes I even have to cry, because I recognize that I have forced my body to do something that was not so good for it that day.
If practiced I can say from personal experience that these loina are completely transformative and stabilizing. They contribute toward the healing of ourselves as women, and therefore inherently to the healing of our communities.