‘It’s not something to be ashamed of’ - New film highlights menstruation in Māori pre-colonial times

By Jessica Tyson

A short film highlighting the tikanga practices around menstruation in pre-colonial times has been named a finalist for a New Zealand's short film competition.

Hinekura, set in the 1600s, is a story about a girl who gets her period for the first time and the ceremonies that take place to prepare her for adulthood.

The film is one of six finalists for the New Zealand International Film Festival’s annual Best Short Film Competition.

Writer and director Becs Arahanga says the film is about ancient practices, “When we first got our first ikura (menstruation) and the taking of the kōtiro out of the tribe and to a wānanga sight by the women of the iwi.”

In the film, Arahanga says the girl named Hine “isn’t ready to step into her wāhinetanga so there’s a little bit of resisting what she’s meant to be doing.”

She says the key audience for the film is young wāhine.

“There is very little content available either in Māori or non-Māori films, which addresses the female rite of passage," says Arahanga.

“We feel that depicting this subject in a way that not only highlights the importance of this transition of a young Māori woman but also presents her with pride and respect is relevant and sought from women of all ages, times and cultures.”

Photo source: Joseph McAlpine, Awa Films Ltd

Maintaining tikanga in the film

To ensure all of the tikanga portrayed in the film was correct according to pre-colonial times, Arahanga had help from prominent Māori figures.

This included tikanga expert Rhonda Tibble, president of the Māori Party Che Wilson and Māori academic Dr Ngahuia Murphy who has completed her thesis on the subject.

“All three people thought it was really pretty good. They didn’t find anything tikanga-wise that alerted them.”

Tibble also helped throughout the production of the film as the language advisor.

Changing attitudes

Arahanga hopes the film will help people think differently about menstruation.

“After the introduction of Tauiwi (non-Māori) thought and customs, specifically, that of the church and missionaries, whom deemed the menstrual cycle and women as unclean and unholy, we have now traversed so far from who we truly were… which was sacred, respected and equals," says Arahanga.

“Now, in this country, we have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, suicide and abuse. I can’t say for sure that this is the result of colonisation but many could and have argued that it has definitely contributed to those statistics, and the ‘dirtying’ of this natural and revered process would make a solid case in point of where this separation started to occur.”

Actresses Mere Boynton and Kahumako Rameka featured in the film. Photo source: Joseph McAlpine, Awa Films Ltd

The film features actors including Mere Boynton, of Ngāi Tūhoe, and first-time actress Kahumako Rameka, of Tainui, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Mahuta and Te Arawa, who played Hine.

“It was a change for me because I didn’t know much about the ceremonies and practices that took place among women in the past,” says Arahanga.

She says she has met and spoken with kuia who have opened up to family members about their own experiences after watching the film.

“It is no longer the taboo subject to be swept under the carpet. It is not something to be ashamed of, but something which is precious and to be celebrated as our ancestors did in the past.”

NZ International Film Festival

Hinekura will be featured at the New Zealand International Film Festival which starts in Auckland on July 18 and in Wellington from 26 July.

Finalists will compete for a total of four prizes, with winners to be announced at the closing night event of the Auckland leg.

The other five finalists are Nancy From Now On, directed by Keely Meechan, Krystal by Briar Grace-Smith, Egg Cup Requiem by Prisca Bouchet and Nick Mayow, Golden Boy by Alex Plumb and Our Father
by Esther Mauga.