Health and Sexuality Post 2- Other Indigenous Perspectives

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.

In Peace,
Eliza :)

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Comment by Kaohi on September 9, 2009 at 7:29am
Mahalo Mahalo,

You have shared such wonderful and personal experiences with me. I too have similar stories, most not so good.

The good part yes native women had a separate house, the not so good part the missionary got a hold of these houses and called it the house of "ill repute" since than because it was during the time of the Hawaiian Homes Act formation and before that attack on native women was an important political move.

I can remember having my period in the 4th grade closer to 3rd because we were being fed hormones through the eggs we were eating. From this early period we were suppose to have children early, before sixteen to keep up with the dying race so to speak. I wanted to learn science and we were told to learn Homeeconomics for good house keeping.

I was aware of this because my grandmother was a midwife, and my mother the oldest person assisted her in these home births. All placentas were buried in grandpas yard, and a Papaya tree was planted. This house is on Hollinger street.

Also too, we the women involved with O Kanaloa Kohe Malamalama was asked not to go to the island if we had our period. I did not have my period nor was it due. My last day on the island I had my period. Other women also had the same experiences. We were instructed to not eat the crabs on the island, I believe it's because of the salt contents.

I strugged the whole period thing on Kahoolawe from my mind and than I started to recant that experience years later. Sharing our sexuality with other women was not an exceptable thing, but I do it openly.

I recently had surgery, I'm sure it was preventive but because of the loss of understanding about our sexuality and it being used as a political tool to subjugate women down to nothing, I was not able to reverse it's happening.

I had prolapse and this is only too common among women and no one is talking about it just suffering. I opt to educate myself and do what I could do to prevent or heal myself. I waited to long and also too, allowed myself to be used as a piece of meat instead of a person by doctors. I trusted women doctors to do the right thing, and they didn't.

This was all accidental my questioning my sexuality. I wanted to learn how to dance this special hula. I don't know how to do the hula because of my missionary background. We got dirty licken if we got caught dancing by my mother. I couldn't feel the words, by the standards of my Kumu. She teaches the old way.

She asked me if I was having sex? I was shocked, but being the type to speak honestly, I said not for a very long time, about seven years long time. Another Kupuna said, if you don't use it, it meaning my vagina, "going get old." They were so right!

A whole new world opened up for me! It came too late for me preventive of "old vagina" I had already started to prolapse, which I believe it started with a leap done to me by a women doctor. All the kegal in the world couldn't prevent the prolapse.

Prolapse is like an inside out socks. Everthing falls out of your vagina, thus, causing lots of problems with bowel movements, or urination. Every elder women I meet has this problem except for those that are still doing hula.

I did not want to use a thingy can't spell it at the moment, so I opt for surgery. I was sticking my ball of intestines back up only to have it fall out of my vagina again. I can't say I did the right thing having surgery yet because I am still in recovery. I use to be active before the surgery swimming every day, I couldn't run like I use to because of the prolaps.

If we had Maoli women of all generations in a conference room I believe all of this can be shared, and the how too's could be said to prevent other young women from prolapse which at this point is unavoidable. I beleive diet, excercise, hula, talking all could help our women regardless of culture. Surgery or suffering should not be an option for women of Hawaii. Kaohi

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