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Article  •  4 June 2024


A Guide to Waitohu Journal

Nau mai ki Waitohu! Read on to learn about Hinemoa Elder's inspiration behind Waitohu, and how to use this special journal.

The basic principles of Waitohu:

  • Write daily: Just like other journals you will write something every day, with the Māori lunar calendar, and each of the different faces of Hina, our Māori moon goddess as your companions.
  • Ka mua, ka muri: What’s different here is that as each month ends, you will turn back to the beginning, and write new journal entries under what you wrote on that day, the month before. Figuring out the future by returning to what you wrote in the past.
  • Revisit and reflect: You get to revisit your previous journal entries. Your reflections become grouped together under each of Hina’s moon faces. You will see and feel themes emerging on different days of the month, casting a growing light on how you make meaning of your life.

Keen to dive right in? Hūkere, hūkere! Let’s go!

Here’s how to use this journal:

  • Start by working out the face of Hina: Whiro is the new moon. Rākaunui is our full moon. Check the contents pages and our Okoro on pages 4 and 5. There are many websites, apps and maramataka with information to help you. Keep in mind, different names are used by different iwi for some of Hina’s faces. Here, I am using the names from our Te Aupōuri Okoro. Use the moons on the top of the pages to work out what day and night you are beginning your Waitohu journey.
  • Read the prompt and write your entry: Read what I have written for you to ponder under each moon phase and ease into expressing your reflections. Some of you may want to be sure there is plenty of space for your writing, doodling and drawing — however your creativity manifests. There is room to write a year’s worth of entries under each moon, three per page, on average.
  • Write your own whakatauākī: And, at the end of each month I invite you to write your own whakatauākī. So by the end of the year you will have composed 12 of your very own proverbial sayings.


Why Waitohu?

Waitohu is our own sacred place to put pen to paper. A place to chronicle daily reflections and experiences. A chance to experience the combined energies of my two previous books Aroha and Wawata, responding to the call from so many readers for a book where journal entries could be collected, enabling our aroha-fuelled wawata, our dreams, to serve as navigational tools for life.

The pages of Waitohu help us to walk the talk of the famous whakataukī, proverbial saying, ‘ka mua, ka muri’, which can be translated as ‘walking backwards into the future’ or ‘moving into the future informed by the past’.

Whakataukī, or whakatauākī if we know the originator, might be new to you. These are concise nuggets of wisdom. Many have been passed on to us by our ancestors. Their exquisite observations of nature help us see the world and ourselves through our ancestors’ eyes, providing the life lessons we need now.

If you have read my book Wawata you will remember my frustrations about how keeping a journal can give us the impression that time is solely linear. Don’t get me wrong, those kinds of resources are incredibly useful. But they give the illusion that time moves forward only in a straight line. I have always felt there was another form, another structure to record our experiences across the Okoro. My puku, my gut, told me that there was a creative solution where a more intensely connected experience of purpose and action would bubble up to the surface of our relationship with time.

I felt driven to make a hautaka, a journal, where time’s revolving door comes to life. Where we can make meaning from the collections of our experiences, grouping themselves together under Hina’s gaze for that specific day and night, month after month.

Waitohu is a place to free our dreams, drawings, and poems.

A place to jot down ideas. A place to write stories. For secret pleasures. For fantasy. For random scribbles and made-up words. For aspirations, for naming fears and for putting raw truths on the page. Waitohu provides creative room to note down our most outlandish ideas and plans. To compose, to wonder, to record signs from te taiao, from nature, to acknowledge intuition and instincts. Here we gather our puzzle pieces, our fragments through every day and night of the Māori lunar calendar with Hina the Māori moon goddess as our guide. Our hautaka welcomes the recording of thoughts, sketching the next project, riffing on the whimsy of the moment’s inspiration.

Staying in Hina’s enveloping embrace, we bring together our wawata, we recognise our aroha. Hina’s oscillation, Hina’s own lilt and sway, her pull on the ocean tides and on our inner emotional tides reveals the clarity we need. Sometimes we might be surprised at the gift we left for ourselves a month before. Sometimes it might come as a shock, how honest we felt last month or maybe how tentative, or how furious. Month after month we rediscover the tohu, the signs we left behind for ourselves. Like the strangely beautiful and misshapen shells that are brought back by the tides of our words. Insights from just a month ago. We see them on the page, their tangible forms. And each month we witness the flow of experiences sometimes blending together, and at other times opening out like braided rivers. A chance to play with those ideas again and to see where they lead us, never in a straight line, always curving around, ebbing and flowing, increasing our intimacy and wellbeing in unexpected ways. I say ‘we’ because I am on this journey too. We are in this together.

Waitohu, a word that kept appearing, in so many places.

I have called this precious journal Waitohu because this is a place of significance for us to record our discoveries as we travel through time. Waitohu is a Māori word that can be translated as significant, important and meaning-ful. As I was developing the ideas for this hautaka, waitohu was a word that kept appearing. Tohu, indicates proof, announcing directions, a symbol, a marker revealing evidence. According to our favourite dictionary, affectionately known as ‘Wiremu’ (A Dictionary of the Māori Language by H.W. Williams. Our mum’s copy from 1975 is my go-to), waitohu is also a word that can indicate pepeha, a recognised way of introducing ourselves, or an idiomatic saying. The word waitohu can express the foretelling of a future event. How fitting for a journal where we figure out the future by returning to our writings from the past.

Wai is such a natural part of how we ask and answer questions about identity.

The importance of wai, water, as the essential element of life is carved into our language. Just as rivers cut their water courses from the whenua, the land. Such is our intimate connection with water that our identities stem from the waters we flow from and the waters we flow to. Our place in the intergenerational continuum is so evident from the use of the word wai.

Ko wai koe, who are you?

Ko wai au, who am I?

Ko wai tātou, who are we all?

Questions about who we are, in connection with others and as a collective, are reflected in the word wai. These questions serve as invitations to consider the shifting nuances of our identity. What waters do we come from? How do the characteristics of these bodies of water help us understand who we are? Do we hail from areas with strong rips and high unrelenting tides? Do we connect with fast-moving streams? Are we linked to churning whirlpools where seaweed swirls and tangles? What can we learn from the waters that we have affinity with, that we are related to? How are these waters we spring from changing with the terrifying changes in our planet’s climate and how then does that impact on our own sense of who we are? These deeply personal and intimate observations of nature and the way water moves may feel uncharted. There are new ways to experience connectivity with ourselves and others. New ways to explore the plans and actions that might float to the surface from these new shades of awareness of our relationship with wai, under Hina’s changing gaze each day and night.

‘Wai’ can also be short for waiata, song.

‘What’s our wai?’ is a question you might hear in preparation for a hui or pōwhiri. In other words, what waiata are we singing as a kīnaki, as a relish, after whaikōrero, speeches, or for some other special occasion marking solidarity and unity of purpose.

‘Ko te aroha anō he wai, aroha is like water’ is the opening line of a waiata called ‘Tai Aroha’ that is a firm favourite to sing with whānau and friends at appropriate times. The deepest wellspring is aroha, and like water, this aroha infuses our wawata, our dreams for the future, for our babies, for future generations. Aroha, as you may know, is our Māori concept of love, compassion, fierce protection, caring and supporting, discovering our legacies, our guardianship. Unquenchable, bubbling up from the sacred source of aroha within all of us. Hina’s orbit around Papatūānuku, our earth mother, and their intimate bond reminds us that time guided in this way can open us up to powerful experiences of aroha.

So every time we sing this waiata we feel those aroha tears. And as we sing we relive the journey of the original composers, Anaru and Jay Kupenga, who wrote the waiata during one of their many climbs up their treasured mountain, Hikurangi, in 1981. We remember our beloved Te Wharehuia Milroy who modified the waiata in the 1990s. ‘Ko te aroha anō he wai’ holds many stories in its sensual musical tides.

Wai is a well-known word for water.

‘E te waitī, e te waitā’, ‘the sweet and the salty waters’, is a greeting to all the waters represented by the gathering of people. And these are also the names of two of our Matariki stars. As you would expect, Waitī is the star with connection to all those inhabitants of lakes, rivers and streams, and Waitā is associated with the abundance of food from the oceans.

Wai is also present in the watermark reminders throughout these pages of Waitohu. Water’s movement visible on every page, designed to draw us into the ebb and flow of our day. Waves, some huge and rolling, others rippling in tiny rivulets, cascading down with the power of a waterfall, rhythmic surges with poi-like sway, or undulating with turbulence. Water themes that speak to the energies of that day. These watermarks beckon us to write across the page, along the water veins. Words and letters gurgling up from a spring, spilling across rocks in a stream, phrases drifting upwards like sea spray flung high into the breeze on our rolling spring tides. You will notice that there is a deliberate absence of horizontal lines to separate each of your journal entries. There are four pages for a year’s worth of reflections, and extra pages at the end of each section. Here you have plenty of space to write, draw and dream on each page. Some months there might be several paragraphs. Others, just one simple, sentinel word or picture.

Waitohu is a place for reflections on wairua.

Wairua can be experienced as the intuition that we feel, the vibes we sense, such a critical aspect of how we live. Too often missing or overlooked in what is deemed important in our health and wellbeing. For me, as a Māori psychiatrist, wairua is something so distinctive in the way we move in the world. Some other cultures place their emphasis on individuals and independence. What goes on inside each separate person is the focus for some. What I notice with our whānau, extended families, is the attention we pay to what goes on among and amongst everyone. And we always consider both the living and those who have passed on. These intricate wairua webs, curling and weaving with the currents of a different kind of wai.

Looking out from the lands around Te Rerenga Wairua, I picture the confluence of two oceans as another defining water-mark. Te Tai o Whitirea me Te Moana o Rehua. These names, resonate with generations of ancient memories. As a descendant of Muriwhenua, the watery union of these two oceans speaks to us of the coming together of mighty forces, the collision of energy that we are all part of. From this sacred vantage point we can easily tune in to the concept of wairua. Wairua, an essential aspect of our wellbeing. Wairua, our connection to all aspects of the universe, also sometimes translated as spirituality. When I think of wairua I feel the echoes of these two ancestral waters meeting. Wairua vibrates within and all around us. The invisible ripples, our sensitive wairua instrumental strings shiver as if plucked by a hidden musician.

Musical themes enrich our Waitohu journal in another way too. You might recall from Wawata, that I saw Hina’s orbit as forming six musical groupings, each providing more sources of encouragement: Whakaeke, Mōteatea, Waiata ā-ringa, Poi, Haka, Whakawātea. These are the names of Māori musical performance disciplines, seen at their zenith at Te Matatini, our bi-annual festival and national competition of these art forms. Here in Waitohu each musical section brings its own distinctive layers of ihi, wehi and wana, thrill, awe, and gusto, to feed our creative juices!

Waitohu and the power of naming has been on my mind writing this book.

Because waitohu can also mean signature.

I don’t know if you did this when you were young but I used to practise how to write my signature. I can still see groups of us at school practising how we wanted to express our identities in our signatures. Over the years my signature has become simpler. Feeling comfortable in the way the letters form. A growing ease in this aging waitohu-skin. Our own distinctive and unique ways of naming and then processing the names we give to the chapters in our life’s journey are deeply personal and often hard to put into words.

Here in Waitohu I invite you to write your own whakatauākī.

Writing about life, finding and using your words, encouraged by all the different ways that water is part of you, at the end of each month there is a special place for some deeply creative reflections.

One of the stories about Hina describes how, each month, she bathes in the restorative waters of Te Waiora a Tāne, before returning, renewed, to her orbit. Mirroring Hina’s practice, at the end of every month, let’s join her in Te Waiora a Tāne, and soak into a real or metaphorical experience of bathing in these rejuvenating, moonlit waters. Let’s mark that time by coining our own meaningful whakatauākī, our own proverbial sayings.

First, make time to reflect on what we notice in te taiao, the natural world. Swim in these observations. Reflecting in our imaginary pool on the elements of nature most poignant to you over the course of a given month, organise some words and phrases that form the beginnings of a life lesson. Your imagination might have been captured by birds flying in a certain formation, or something about the nature of their cry, the colours of their feathers may have caught your eye, the texture and colours of tree bark, leaves laughing in the breeze, the intricate repeated patterns of plants and flowers nearby. Write something down, maybe draw, doodle, and then consider how to bring this whakatauākī to life. Pay attention to elements that call out to you — these are tohu, significant signs, meaningful signals over the previous month. They form a question from te taiao, from the natural world, to us all. What does this mean to you, what life lessons are being revealed? How can you compose your own proverb based on what you saw and felt as an answer to the natural world’s invitation?

This might feel a little daunting at first. Bear with me.

One practice I have found helpful with warming up my writing is to set a timer for five minutes and just let what needs to flow from the pen or pencil emerge. When I can’t think of the word, I write, ‘I can’t think of the word, but it is something along the lines of . . .’ and just keep going. It could be that our words turn into a picture or a picture into words, a waiata, a poem, a joke, a tongue-twister. This is a practice you could consider as a form of writing massage, a romiromi, to free up your reflections and get them onto the page.

One of the striking signs in te taiao is during kōanga, spring-time, in the form of puawānanga, the white clematis. Fluffy petal-clouds float in the bush canopy around home. Despite it being Whiro, the new moon, with the land shrouded in darkness, the puawānanga blooms bright. I can still see its confident brilliance when I arrive home in the dark. As I write these lines it is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori and Mahuru Māori — invigorating activities that continue to flourish with such clarity, just like the puawānanga does.

We witness these expressions of joy and revitalisation of our reo and tikanga at certain times of the year. And I am reminded that these are based on less visible hard work that continues all year long. Nutrients flow up from the roots of the puawānanga through its twisting vines. Just like the sustenance our pouako, our teachers, continue to provide year round. Inspired by these reflections, I wrote this whakatauākī: ‘Titiro ki tua atu o ngā manahua’. Look beyond the flowers in full bloom. So when I am feeling a bit dark, or in the dark, focusing on problems or giving myself a hard time, especially in my reo Māori journey, and particularly on Whiro, I draw strength from the steadfast puawānanga. The reliable return of the bursts of milky petals, a symbol of our collective efforts in upholding our language and way of life throughout the year.

Waitohu has special pages for you to gently step into the healing waters of Te Waiora a Tāne and write your own whakatauākī (see page 238). Let your aroha-fuelled wawata begin to coalesce. By the end of the year, you will have created your own collection of at least 12 whakatauākī. I imagine some of you might feel driven to write more. Your own Waitohu legacy.

Hoake! Let’s get started! Ka mua, ka muri, let’s begin our Waitohu time-travelling journal, drawing on the wisdom of the past to map the future. Let’s write about the time of our lives.


This is an edited extract from Waitohu by Dr Hinemoa Elder

Waitohu Dr Hinemoa Elder

From the best-selling author of Aroha and Wawata comes a new and inspiring journal to help you make deeper connections using the energies of Hina the Maori moon goddess and the power of aroha.

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