Almost two years ago my daughter had her first child in Australia. Recently, when it was obvious they would not be coming back to Aotearoa as soon as they thought, she asked me to bring back the boy’s whenua and bury it. It had been in their freezer since his birth. It needs to be in Papatuanuku, she said to me. Where they were living, a suburb adjacent to an army base, was not Papatuanuku. It had another mythology, but the dreaming had been sorely disrupted.
You’re happy for it to be in the bush near the creek? She agreed. So I rang the airline and there was no problem with bringing a placenta back.
As I packed for leaving she brought it to me. It was in a sealed plastic pot with the hospital label on it. It was surprisingly light. I placed it in my suitcase and packed clothes around it, caught the plane, declared it at customs, who were mainly concerned with Indonesian food products because of an outbreak of the dreaded foot and mouth disease in that country.
When I got home I walked down the track to the creek with the secateurs. In three weeks the blackberry would probably have thrown out wild tendrils. I walked over the bridge I had made, and cut my way through tendrils but it wasn’t too bad and I could eat some late fruit.
Once in the trees I veered off the path to a moss covered mound where I’d buried a dog ten years ago. It’s a peaceful spot and I wondered whether this was the place for the whenua? Next I looked at the base of a tall beech tree which has shot up over the last sixty years or so. That would be more of a male place, whereas the moss covered mound was feminine. No need to immediately decide.
As I walked down the track to the creek bed and paddock I realised that burying the whenua would make this place even more resonant than it has already become from almost daily wandering. I’d often learned scripts on these walks, pondered issues, thrown sticks for the replacement dog, watched the creek water rise and fall and the pond level fluctuate. Each day the dog swam in the pond or chased a stick thrown into the creek. I’d watched children play on the rocks, disturbed kereru, been fluttered at by pīwakawaka, the dog had chased weka and hares and ducks had given birth, gorse had grown then fallen over after heavy rain and I’d sawn my way through branches to keep the track clear. I’d realised that the timber at the bottom of the pond was from an old gold dredge, and I’d researched the geology of the area. But now there would be a genetic connection to the earth. It was a different sort of thought, a humbling thought.
It was a compliment that my daughter had entrusted this task to me and that this village where I live and where she lived for a period was the place to receive the whenua. I had sometimes thought I would like to be buried in the mound next to the dog. I decided I would bury the placenta at the base of the tree and find a marker rock to place on top. This would slowly become sacred ground. Papatuanuku.
But what of a karakia? I went home and found suitable words from Fairburn’s Dominion, a poem that always speaks to me: ‘Land of mountains and running water, rocks and flowers and the leafy evergreen. O natal earth, the atoms of your children are bonded to you for ever.
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