Does the idea of preparing for winter seem an odd concept to you?
If it does, let me remind you that you may know more about this than you think. People have always prepared for winter through the acts of harvest, storage and containment.
Preparing for winter is part of your ancestral history.
Recently I took part in a community kumara dig on Auckland’s west coast. As I wriggled my fingers through the sandy mounds in search of the sometimes elusive tubers, I reflected on the principles of harvest, storage and containment, and the ways in which they are still relevant to us today.
How Maori prepared for winter
On their arrival in Aotearoa from the warmer climate of tropical islands, Maori had to adapt quickly to the new conditions. The precious kumara, their staple crop, could no longer be grown all year round. A cycle of harvest, followed by a fallow time, and then new planting in spring, had to be quickly established.
And how could they store these thin-skinned tubers without them rotting away? You may think that harvesting kumara has nothing to teach you, but take a look at the principles, and you may find some correlations coming to mind.
Five principles of harvest
It was important to choose a dry, sunny day and begin when the sun was high in the sky. This was critical to avoid any mould infecting the crop before it was stored. The slightest bit of mould could destroy the whole harvest.
2. Unearth with care
The skin of the kumara is fragile, and prone to damage. Any cuts or bruises open the way to rot, and so every care must be taken to keep the tubers intact when harvesting. No sharp tools, just hands digging and exploring, then lifting the kumara one by one.
3. Offering up with gratitude
Karaka (prayers) were chanted at dawn, before the harvest. Special kumara, that had been ritually planted as the first seeds in spring, were unearthed first. They were cooked in a special hangi and offered to Pani-tinaku, the kumara goddess.
The whole crop was washed and dried with care, and examined for the possible appearance of a special large tuber that was a sign of Pani’s influence and blessings.
Back in 1994, I was shown a sacred kumara.
When I was writing the first edition of Celebrating the Southern Seasons I used to drive out to South Auckland to visit kumara researcher Dell Wihongi. I would bring freshly baked scones, she would boil the kettle, and we’d sit down to talk about Maori agriculture.
On one occasion I remarked on a large kumara sitting on Dell’s desk. This kumara bore a startling resemblance to the Venus of Willendorf and other fertility goddesses that I’d been studying in Europe. It was ‘Pani’s Kumara’ from the recent harvest, she told me. Such a kumara was always kept aside, and later cooked on sacred fire as an offering to Pani-tinaku.
4. Create the right container and store the crop with care
Maori invented the rua/kumara pit for safe storage of the harvest. The pits had to be dug into the ground or into a hillside. Then the diggers would line the rua with manuka brush and bracken fern to create a soft, springy bed. On this springy bed of fern, older women or men would carefully place the tubers in rows, interlacing them with native pennyroyal, and making sure they didn’t damage them in any way. The pit was then sealed to make it airtight.
The crop I helped to harvest recently will be stored in a dark hut between sheets of newspaper.
* The sketch above was done by ‘Miss E. Richardson’ and is reproduced in Elsdon Best, Maori Agriculture, p. 227)
5. Open the rua with intention at a time of scarcity.
Judgement is required for when to break the seal and lift the first kumara from the storage pit. My old teacher, Jim Okeroa, told me how at Parihaka his whanau would lift the lid of the rua on Te Whiti’s day, on the 18th of the month, in order to feed everyone at the pa.
How do these principles apply to your inner harvest?
Your inner harvest is a precious resource to carry over into the cold winter months. Consciously selecting, valuing and storing your inner riches is a powerful way to prepare consciously for the season to come.
1. Timing: gather your inner harvest on a bright day, when you are feeling positive and abundant. This ensures a successful ‘harvest’.
2. Unearth with care: the resources, capacities and strengths that you have grown over summer and autumn.
3. Offering up with gratitude: Prepare this inner harvest, by recording it, ready for storage. Notice any special resources or gifts, that might indicate the presence of grace (spiritual presence or support). Valuing, noticing and offering gratitude are keys to this stage.
4. Create the right container and store your inner harvest with care. Place messages in a box, pouch, or lidded pot.
5. Open the container with intention in order to draw on the harvest at the right time, i.e. a time of scarcity, or need.
Would you like to be guided through this process?
I have recorded the steps on an audio recording and PDF, so that you can relax and be guided through the process of unearthing, preparing and storing your inner harvest in a way that will bring gladness to you in the future.
I also take you through some practical ways to prepare for winter.
If you would enjoy this support and holding, then check out my ‘Autumn Attunement’ (which I could just as well have called ‘Preparing for Winter’, since that is the theme).
Even if you decide not to take advantage of this extra support, you might like to reflect on the principles of harvest and ask yourself how they might apply to you.
What ritual of harvesting your inner wealth might you create for yourself?
How might you prepare for the long haul of cold nights and short days?
In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
This post is an excerpt from my Seasons Newsletter. To receive the Seasons Newsletter, you may sign up on the home page of this website and receive a free audio meditation.