Thursday, 19 January 2012

Ahu and Hatiti talk about plants (No 35)

The continuing story of Ahu and Ahuahu her husband in a Maori village in Aotearoa before European settlement of New Zealand.

Although Hatiti’s house was now complete both she and her baby Horowai slept most nights with Ahu‘s family as she was now breast feeding Ahu’s baby Aotea as well has her own little girl..

Hatiti remembered the day that she, Ahu and the younger children had been walking on the beach gathering shellfish and any unwary crabs that scuttled under their feet as they wandered along talking and laughing. As they sat to feed their babies Ahu uttered little cries of pain as Aotea tried to take his fill. He was always hungry and cried a lot as he had not had enough. Ahu‘s milk was drying up and she did not feel well.

“Hatiti, you are still feeding Horowai, is it possible you could top up Aotea for me if you have some to spare? Aotea is grizzling again and I feed him but he is not happy.”

They exchanged babies whilst Hekehoru watched them. Aotea was unhappy at first with the change but soon settled and was tucking in as Ahu placed Horowai down on the sand with Hekehoru and continued to talk to Aotea and stroked both the baby’s and Hatiti’s cheeks as the baby fed.

The two little girls, Horowai and Hekehoru went back to playing with shells on the beach unconcerned.

“Thank you Hatiti.” Ahu said when Aotea was handed back to her. “But I must try to keep feeding him; otherwise another baby will come along too soon.”

“Did not the leaves of the Horopipo plant help you?”

Ahu shook her head, “I do not think I am producing enough milk for him and he chews a lot, it is very painful.”

“I will always feed him Ahu, but won’t Ahuahu mind?”

“Well he cannot help, can he?” She said with a sad smile. “We must also look for the Poroporo plant, the one with purple leaves and flowers that will make a drink to help to prevent me becoming pregnant again if I am not breast feeding.”

“How do you know all these things, Ahu?”

“I listen and I remember. For years I was a nobody, an orphan, living with my aunts, they hardly noticed me and certainly did not care for me. But I listened and I remembered all that they spoke about. I determined if ever I should marry and have children I would love my husband and my children and whoever showed me kindness. That is why I love you.”

Hatiti nodded and smiled back at Ahu in satisfaction.

It was a few days later that Hinewai disgraced herself and both she and her husband Torangi were banished from the village after the disturbance they caused.

The village head man spoke to Ahuahu, Ahu’s husband privately.

“Ahuahu, it is said you are looking after Hatiti, Hinewai’s sister. Is she to be your wife also?”

“My wife Ahu wishes that she should live with us now that Hatiti’s husband has died. No, she is not my wife as well.”

“Then do you not think perhaps we should find a husband for her.”

Ahuahu shook his head, “No, I have promised both of them that I will look after Hatiti.”

The head man laughed, “She is already your wife then. Most of the men on the village council have two wives, this is good thing. You should tell Kamaka her father, so that he need not worry for this daughter as well.”

Ahuahu shook his head. “Hatiti is not unchaste. She still grieves for her dead husband. She feels safe and happy to live with us.” Replied Ahuahu.

“You must make her even happier then.” Laughed the head man and slapped Ahuahu on the arm.

“I will discuss it with Ahu and Kamaka” said Ahuahu. He thanked the chief for his advice and returned home not having revealed that Ahu herself had already made these plans.

The two women were in the house when he returned.

“Hatiti, would you go and check your house while I talk to Ahu?” Hatiti looked a little worried as she glanced at Ahu but did as she was asked.

“The head man considers that Hatiti should be my wife also, Ahu.”

Ahu nodded smiling, “This is a good idea, she will be a great help for me. Go and ask her. She may need persuading, so be gentle with her and show her that you will be a kind husband to us both. So take your time.”

“Ahu, it is you that wanted this.”

“Have you not noticed she has fed Aotea ever since he was sickly, as he could not get enough milk from me? He is thriving again now. Start by thanking her for that; then tell her she is beautiful. You do think she is beautiful don’t you?”

“But not as beautiful as you.”

“No, do not tell her that. Go on, you are on the village council and are expected to have more than one wife. I chose Hatiti because she is so much like me. We will not argue. Quickly, go to her now or else she will think that you do not want her living with us.”

A little while later Ahuahu brought Hatiti back to their house. Hatiti was crying. “Did our husband beat you” asked Ahu smiling.

Laughing and wiping the tears from her eyes Hatiti shook her head “No, that is not possible he loves us both so much.”

Note. Multiple wives were fairly common in Aotearoa (New Zealand) before white settlement.


  1. And in other cultures too I really inhabit this world and put your heart and soul into your characters..the ending this week was particularly rich..Jae

  2. I've got a bad feeling about this. Poor Ahuahu, who will take the brunt of it.

  3. I hope this works out for everyone. In pre-industrial cultures there is a certain logic to plural marriage, since it means more adults to do the work. If sexual jealousy doesn't become a factor, this could be a good thing.

  4. What a fantastic lesson in culture! Thank you! The optimist in me hopes this is a story with a happy ending.

  5. On a second visit..I collected made me smile..Jae :)

  6. Very interesting- I have been off and on again with this story but each installment I've read seems like it's own little history lesson.

  7. The nursing moment is expressed so intimately. You shared some details that I would think only a woman with a child to feed would know. Wonderful.

    My midwives once shared a story with me of how they nursed each others babies in their busy days as early midwives and new mothers.

    In some places, these relationships are treasures.

  8. I've got to read the previous parts of this tale. You have drawn me into this rich world. Your style is perfect.

  9. A nicely drawn picture of a perfect idyll. Wet-nursing was fairly common-place even in 'sophisticated' societies, and some aristocratic mothers never actually nursed their own babies at all.

  10. Interesting look at another culture. The dialogue moves so smoothly. An enjoyable read!

  11. I'm catching up... looks like lots of change is on the horizon here!

  12. Ah, this may sound great on the surface, but how long will it be before trouble begins to brew? I'll be checking back next week.