Sunrise at Ōpononi. Photo / Mark Russell
There are some days when we should just never leave the house and, according to a Far North “Maramataka Queen”, the warnings are all there, if only we’d slow down and listen.
And if anyone’s
listening to nature, it’s Heeni Hoterene, who applies her own lunar energy cycle knowledge and credits it with helping her survive the stage four terminal cancer she was diagnosed with in 2020.
Heeni has been practising and educating maramataka, the traditional Māori lunar calendar used to guide planting, harvesting, fishing and hunting, as well as balance in our everyday lives, for many years.
Maramataka means ‘everything under the influence of the moon’ and it is the traditional Māori way by which time is marked.
Heeni’s knowledge is learned through a combination from her grandparents and, later in life, her children’s father’s ancestors, who spent thousands of years observing the environment and passing on their wisdom to successive generations. Today Heeni, 48, passes on that knowledge from their manuscripts and diaries and through experience living off the land herself.
“I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and was aware my grandfather planted by the maramataka,” she recalls. “I went to Victoria University and studied te reo Māori and anthropology but I’m a practitioner, I believe that expert knowledge comes through experience.
“I spent many years listening to my elders and now I am sharing that knowledge to empower people to live a life of freedom because we’ve become so disconnected and separated from the environment. Our maramataka Māori connects us to the environment.”
It came as a surprise to Heeni that others didn’t know what she knew but she found the yearning to learn was there so made it her mission to revive the practice of maramataka. During lockdown, her social media following snowballed.
“People were feeling anxious and worried. Everyone was at home wondering what was going on. I tried to give them inspiration and affirmations, all based on our indigenous knowledge.
“Later, women would stop me in the street and say ‘thank you, you really helped me get through the lockdown’.”
But while helping others, she was struggling with her own health issues and was finally delivered a devastating diagnosis of stage four terminal endometrial cancer, which spread to her lymph nodes, stomach and spine.
“I was told, without chemo, I’d be dead within two months and, with chemo, my life span would be two years if I was lucky. I believed I was gonna die. I thought, ‘you got me, you got me’. That night, the walls were closing in and I had this feeling of terror. I said to my family the next day, ‘Oh well, I’ve had a good life’, and they said, ‘You’re not like this – you’re a fighter’.
“The next night I woke up again and that feeling came in but I thought, ‘Stuff this Heeni. You’re not going to spend the rest of your days feeling scared’. I said to myself: ‘What do you know?’ I believe in the power of being a Māori, so I used maramataka to plan out my health journey.”
As well as an emergency hysterectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, Heeni says there’s not one alternative treatment she hasn’t tried but it was maramataka which “helped me when I was up against a massive opponent”.
“I woke up one day and had a feeling of such great power. I say to myself: ‘Heeni, the one person you can rely on, who has got your back and loves you, is you!’
“My mother said to me, ‘You lived so now you have to give back’.”
Heeni runs workshops around the country and works with schools, early childhood centres and teachers to include the practice in their curriculums. Her following has amassed 48,000 on Facebook alone and, every morning before dawn, she offers an eagerly-awaited affirmation.
Maramataka’s revival, she believes, is due to people’s feelings of disconnect.
“We’re celebrating now that we can have our knowledge in the light. It used to be that we weren’t allowed to talk about it. But I think people feel disconnected. They know they’re a part of something but they can’t explain their disconnection.”
A typical lunar month cycle is believed to last around 29.5 days. Each night carries a name, according to the maramataka. For example, Whiro is the first night of the new moon, Tirea is the second night, and so on until Mutuwhenua, the last night. The cycle starts again with the appearance of the next new moon.
According to the maramataka, there are good and bad days for planting crops with the third day after the new moon the ideal time to plant. The gravitational pull of the moon is thought to influence how much water is in the soil. The amount of light coming off it is thought to be another contributing factor.
In terms of fishing, you can do all the preparation in the world, right down to the fancy rods and snacks for the kids but, if the lunar cycle isn’t correct, you will come home empty-handed, says Heeni, adding that the Tangaroa moon, toward the end of the cycle, is the best time to go fishing.
“It always works on maramataka – you can never fault it.
“If we’re going to survive all the changes of the world, such as global warming, flooding, recession and lockdown, then we need to adapt because we’re actually reliant on other people to feed us. And that’s where our understanding and connection with the environment comes in,” says Heeni, who lived off-grid for 12 years.
Heeni is also an Aotearoa representative of Slow Food International, a global movement working to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions and counteract the rise of fast living.
“It’s about aligning with the seasons, the moon and planting and fishing, but there’s also a right time for communication according to the lunar cycle and a right time for having meetings and self-care.
“For example, if staff meetings were planned on certain moons, then people are more likely to understand each other.”
A new moon is linked to low energy and not a good day for meetings. Likewise, for fishing and people are more prone to accidents on this day, says Heeni.
“It’s probably best just to stay at home.
“We’re expected to always be high-performing and on the go. In this world, we’re always taught it’s about first-in, first-served. But with maramataka, we know there’s always a period of high-energy followed by rest. We are connected to the environment and when the tide moves, the moon pulls on us. It is really about the right action at the right time.”
Heeni and her whānau revolve their lives around a planning tool collated from their indigenous knowledge. In fact, the conception and births of Heeni and Reuben Taipari’s four children were planned around maramataka.
Matariki, to Heeni, is about celebrating the unique Northland environment marked by the new moon and the big bright star Puanga. But it’s not a time for big celebrations.
“Winter time is the season of learning. It’s a time for self-reflection and setting goals. June, July and August is when you’re doing your maramataka plan and thinking about what we need in our lives to make our lives better. We’re setting goals for our health, fitness and both professional and self-development. We’re fixing what’s broken. This is when our ancestors would fix the fishing lines and the gardening tools in preparation for spring.
“In terms of relationships, we’re really reflecting and going within ourselves to look at what needs to be done to improve ourselves. We’re still not as physically active and we really want to use this season to figure out what we need to do before spring comes because spring is when we’re putting our plans into action.
“Everything has an ebb and a flow. There’s a time for rest and a time for productivity.
“Nature is healing and we need to be listening. We’re always getting messages and they’re simple. For example, you know if the mosquitos are coming, it’s going to rain so you go inside but people want to spray repellant and swat them.
“I use my observations to encourage people that the environment is here to support us – the environment feeds us.”
Heeni’s hoping the legacy will be carried on by her own children and was encouraged and heart-warmed when her daughter recently announced she was delivering a speech on maramataka at school because her mother is the “Maramataka Queen”.
To follow Heeni’s journey and guidance, search Maramataka Maori on Facebook or Instagram. And for further information, go to maramataka.co.nz.