Whenua

by | Oct 29, 2014 | Uncategorized | 19 comments

How can we ensure that the younger generation are connected with the movements of nature, and come to care for this earth as dearly as their own selves?

In Maori, whenua means ‘land’. It also means ‘placenta’.

Just as the placenta feeds life-giving blood and nutrients to a babe in the womb, so does a child’s connection with the land feed her soul. Burying the placenta in the earth creates a bond that will be deep and strong. (See this beautiful post on the Home Birth Association website)

The little one made her first trip to the bach when she was just a few months old. Her father buried her whenua at the base of a young kauri tree that I had planted several decades ago.  It is shooting up into the light.

The kauri is now ‘her tree’, the first place to visit when she comes out here. The land has a way of calling to her and for some time she’s been asking to come out to stay. Now at six and a half, on Labour weekend, I brought her out for her first, long-awaited sleepover.

What a joy it is to be with a child who has found her place in nature. She trots off down the bush paths to explore, or sits in a flax ‘hut’ listening to the wind and the sound of the birds. She picks up leaves, twigs and pieces of bark to hold or arrange on the ground. She wanders along the nearby stream, watching the water, the waving grasses and the flashing wings of the kingfishers.

The whenua of my first granddaughter was buried after she died at six weeks, and a dwarf kowhai tree planted for her. Every time I tend the kowhai, I think of her.

For many reasons, my second granddaughter has not really bonded with the land. The placenta of this granddaughter, who is now a young adult, was lost because of a power cut. When I mentioned this to some Maori women last summer, they said that the whenua should never be put in the fridge or freezer because doing so affects its life energy. It should be buried in a pot of earth, and in this way kept until it is ready for its final resting place in the ground. And so this was done after the new baby was born this year.

It was time for the new baby to visit the bach for the first time, and for her placenta to be buried in the land.

After two and a half months, the whenua had become absorbed into the soil inside the pot, making it rich and dark. See the difference between this and the surrounding earth.

Her kowhai tree is planted, and with it her connection with the land. May this tree grow to full height. May these young ones grow up to love and protect this earth, which needs more care than ever before. And may the land feed their souls in return.

19 Comments

  1. Vicki Lane

    And what a perfect bookend to your previous post — life and death — two sides of the coin.

    Reply
  2. silkannthreades

    What beautiful connections you are making with the land for yourselves and for future generations. The umbilical cord of my daughter was planted with a tree in her birth land. We did the same for my son. The idea was not so much of nourishment but of making/keeping a tie/bond with the place of your birth.

    Reply
    • Charlene

      My grandson is 3 months old. Due to uncontrollable events, illnesses and even a death his whenua has not been buried yet. And I have placed it in the freezer. So it seems I have unintentionally doomed his connection to the land and the tree we wanted to place on top. Reading that I shouldn’t have done this has discouraged me and I’m wondering should I even bury it at all?
      Your guidance would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Juliet Batten

        Dear Charlene, Please don’t feel that you’ve done anything wrong. The message I received about not putting the whenua in the freezer is about the ideal scenario, and maybe I articulated this a bit too strongly. The whenua still contains your grandson’s cells and identity. For my youngest granddaughter, who is now 6, we did things the ideal way. For her older sister, who is now 12, we had her whenua in the freezer until we were able to travel to the land to bury it. She has a close and intimate connection with the land and all of nature, in fact even deeper than her younger sister. So do bury the whenua. It’s great that you found a way to preserve it. Your intention and blessings will also be planted with the whenua, so let it be a sacred ceremony.

        Reply
  3. Juliet Batten

    Gallivanta, how wonderful to hear of your plantings of the umbilical cords of your children. Their birth places will always be special for them. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Penny O'Neill

    What a spiritually affirming ritual in honoring a newborn life and the earth, Juliet. I think you have mentioned this before, perhaps when Mira had come to visit. This warms my soul, especially your words, “May these young ones grow up to love and protect this earth, which needs more care than ever before. And may the land feed their souls in return.” which read to me as a prayer.
    Beautiful. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Juliet Batten

    Penny, you completely understand the spirit of this ritual. Those words at the end did feel like a prayer to me too, so thank you for receiving this post so fully.

    Reply
  6. Hotly Spiced

    I’ve heard of people burying their placentas but I didn’t know it was a Maori tradition. This has been a really interesting post. How lovely to have your granddaughter over for sleepovers xx

    Reply
  7. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – not having had kids, or thus thinking about these sorts of things … fascinating to read and learn .. and yes isn’t that rich earth.

    Love the little one and so pleased she can be with you fairly often … cheers Hilary

    Reply
  8. Juliet Batten

    * Charlie, your family in Taranaki would have been aware of this tradition no doubt.
    * Hilary, I was surprised to see how rich the earth had become. The tree should grow well.

    Reply
  9. Anne Ruffell

    Your photography always so beautifully depicts what you are writing about. I particularly like the picture of the little one setting off down the stream with her boat behind her – just like setting off in life and not quite knowing what is ahead or to the sides of her.

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Anne, it’s a joy to see the little one always open to exploring. I enjoy selecting the photos; thank you.

      Reply
  10. Nadezda

    Yes the ground has a power to grow, you’re right Juliet. How nice that a girl feels nature and loves a tree!

    Reply
  11. Juliet Batten

    Nadezda, it’s a joy to see how she loves nature. Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Marja

    How special for your grand daughter to be connected to the land and have her own tree. trees are a source of energy in itself.
    What a beautiful tradition

    Reply
  13. Juliet Batten

    Marja, she does love having her own tree, especially a tall kauri. Thank you.

    Reply
  14. Friko

    Your grandchildren are safe in your care and the earth will therefore be safe in theirs.

    Reply
  15. Juliet Batten

    Friko, that’s a beautiful observation. Thank you.

    Reply

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