Review: Wawata: Moon Dreaming - Daily wisdom guided by Hina, the Māori moon

Reviewed by Siena Yates

Author: Dr Hine Elder. Reviewer: Siena Yates.In Wawata: Moon Dreaming, Dr Hinemoa Elder, author of Aroha, New Zealand's top-selling non-fiction title of 2021, shows us how to reclaim intimacy with others, with ourselves, and with our planet using the energies of Hina, the Maori moon.October 2022 release

With her last book, 2021’s bestselling Aroha, Dr Hinemoa Elder (Te Rārawa, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupōuri) delivered the mātauranga many of us didn’t know we needed. With her new offering, Wawata, she delivers the mātauranga many of us have been thirsting for but haven’t been able to grasp.

I’ve wanted to - and tried to - learn more about the maramataka (the Māori lunar calendar) for a few years now. Like any other millennial, I turned to the internet.  At first, the information available to me was limited and also felt entirely beyond my comprehension.

When I went back to try again, there was a lot more information - but it was too much. Suddenly, I had information coming at me from what felt like every iwi and the problem was that all of that information was different and often conflicting and I didn’t know what to take and what to leave.

In the end, the thing that changed the game for me was social media. Sure, it helped that Instagram and TikTok collated the information in ways I could easily digest but most importantly, it taught me how to apply the knowledge to my daily life.

That is exactly what Elder offers with Wawata, except with a level of depth and understanding that social media can’t provide. In the same way as we may have known some of the whakataukī in Aroha but not fully understood how and why they apply to us in a modern age, Wawata presents the maramataka in terms of everything from moods to sexuality to mahi and child-raising.

In her introduction, Elder explains that the book came about as a result of her own attempts to wrap her head around the maramataka, which might be why she’s structured it in such an easy-to-follow way.  Even the contents pages are a super useful resource on their own. They briefly outline the 30 phases - or as Elder calls them, the different faces - of the moon, known in te ao Māori as Hina, the moon goddess.

Here the phases are outlined not just as the new moon, the full moon and the waxing and waning in between, but as a guide to when to prioritise rest, when to be wary, times of heightened sexual energy and fertility, times for wānanga and reflection and more.

It’s not just about what the phases mean to you as an individual. Its purpose is to teach us ‘how to reclaim intimacy with others, with ourselves and with our planet using the energies of Hina.’

Because Wawata was born of the pandemic and at a time where we’re finally having to confront the climate crisis, it focuses on the importance of connection and also on remedying the loss and grief we’ve experienced over the past nearly three years by ‘drawing on our ancient wisdom.’

Elder pictures our ancestors sharing this mātauranga by the fire and writes: ‘Our old people reach forward into our lives with the moon’s names as their offerings.’

If you’ve ever sat around listening to kaumatua telling stories, you know it’s never just that one story. You’ve got to go through four or five other stories to get to the point of the first one. When you’re a kid it feels like a waste of time but eventually, you come to realise that without those stories you could never properly understand the point.

This is why I love that Elder hasn’t just passed on the mātauranga she’s gathered.  She mixes it in with personal stories, musings on social issues and, of course, her professional knowledge as a psychiatrist of the things we need for our mental wellbeing. That’s exactly what makes it so easy to apply the mātauranga to everyday life.

 A lot of the time, when you try to learn about the maramataka, much of the kōrero around moon phases is presented as good or bad times to grow kai or catch fish which is great if those are things you do. But for people like me, it doesn’t really tell us when to avoid that awkward chat with your boss, when might be an okay time to attempt a trip to the gym or when we can expect our moods to be a little bit off. Wawata does.

The book's design is also filled with meaning and matauranga. Like Aroha, it’s a beautiful hardcover book perfect for gifts (and ‘tis the season), with artworks (by Luther Ashford) based on traditional designs which all carry a different meaning related to the kaupapa of the chapter they head. Elder has also specifically left wide margins so that you can make notes as you read along which tells me that while it can absolutely be a beautiful coffee-table book, it’s meant more as a resource and is designed for you to use it as such.

Of course, it’s not a complete guide to all things maramataka nor does it claim to be. What it is, is a beautiful introduction to Hina and the energies and wisdom she lends us throughout each month, and a heartfelt collection of Elder’s methods of understanding and utilising those things.

In the beginning of the book, Elder writes: ‘This is the book I wish I had read when I was young,’ and it is the same for me. But by the same token, it’s a book I’m grateful to have now as I am in a new kind of childhood within te ao Māori, taking my first steps into a new kind of ao mārama.

Reviewed by Siena Yates