“And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see – or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.” (Alice Walker)
The genesis for FEMWOC came out of a discussion about the place of women of colour throughout the global church. While Mormonism has provided for the social mobility of many non-white adherents, it is still – without doubt – a white colonial patriarchy. In the racial ordering of the church women of colour are the least. Our stories are unheard, our emergent theology goes unacknowledged, our shared wisdom is overlooked – our faces and our life stories are invisibilized. We are everywhere but no where.
And so we speak – not simply for ourselves – we speak for our brown and black daughters and grand-daughters. We speak for the brown and black girl-children who (because of political evil, and brutalizing patriarchy) live in poverty; live with abuse, and suffer privations unspeakable. We offer them a place at the kitchen table of their brown and black Mormon mothers. We claim you as our daughters and we leave these stories and these words for you because daughters – you are glorious.
As Juncker (1998) said as she reflected on the work of Alice Walker; at FEMWOC we are a “harmonious chorus of women writing/inviting/rewriting women.”
And so I wish to share my reflections on a story that every Māori girl grows up hearing. Its about a mother, Rona, and her trouble with the moon.
Rona went out one night with a calabash in hand to collect water for her crying children. She used the light of the moon to help her navigate the rutted path down to the river. She was gingerly stepping over potholes when the full moon hid behind a passing cloud causing her to dash her foot against a gnarled ngaio tree root protruding from the mud. In agony she cursed up at the moon,
‘Boil your head’.
This was the worst of all curses to pronounce upon any being. In a rage the moon raced down to clutch Rona away from the earth. Rona held on for dear life to the branches of the ngaio tree, to no avail. The moon plucked up both Rona and the tree and returned to the sky with Rona to live for eternity alone to weep for her children. The moral of the story? A lady must not swear or nature will seek retribution.
As a group of Māori women with whom I work closely we recently discussed the legend of Rona questioning why it was that despite the fact that the colonized version of Rona has largely constituted her as a foul mouthed harpy, we found her legend so compelling. Rather than repeat the colonial telling of the story the answers these wonderful sisters of mine produced were as follows:
Because of the relationship between Rona and wairua/spirit.
Because only Rona can get away with cursing at the moon and then getting to control the waters (of which we are 90%)
Because Rona is critical thinker, alternative practitioner extraordinnaire
Because Rona lights up our pathways – into enlightenment – te maarama-tanga
Because Rona is in touch with our feminine elements
These shared knowledges about Rona are a far cry from the story of lunar vengeance on the midnight temper tantrum of a mother. It was clear that there other things to say about Rona. Bastardized by the insistence of white settlers to make it fit the Western feminine aesthetic, we realized that the story of Rona needed to be retold, restoried. This is my re-telling of my ancestress Rona:
Rona was a woman of intense passion. Her husband feared and cowered at her tirades. And though she made him quiver and shrink, her children knew that she would meet their every need – such was her extraordinary devotion to them. Te Marama or the Moon on the other hand was moribund and lived in a state of perpetual curmudgeon. He lived large and round every evening, he merely served to cast a cool light on a darkened world and this he did without effort, thought or joy. Then one evening after a particularly bitter encounter with her husband, whose usual withdrawal from her had caused her to fly into a temper, the woman appeared outside, full and glorious in her ferocity. With her calabash in hand she picked her way down to the river’s edge to collect some water for her family. Something she had hoped her indolent husband would do. Her indignation piqued however when Marama – the moon – lazily slipped behind a passing cloud without any regard whatsoever for Rona’s needs. Rising up in fury Rona unleashed her self on the moon with a vengeance. She poured all of herself into a curse so brutal that momentarily the world stopped. The night insects ceased their call, the water rats stilled their foraging, the evening birds froze in amazement as the world sparked and crackled in the wake of her outburst. The moon woke up. He was both angered and captivated. He was both repelled by her but attracted to her. But she had said the unthinkable and nature required retribution. He flew down and clutched her up. Rona would have none of it and she clinged to the Ngaio tree. Such was Marama’s strength that extra force was required to pluck her up along with the tree.
Rona put up an admirable fight – but so did Marama. Together they battled for days causing Marama to fade and wane until his light was but a sliver in the sky. But it was exhausting work for the both of them and they would lie spent for a time while Marama’s light grew bright and he grew fat and round and Rona gloried in the beauty of his light that bathed her. But the wonder was that below, the earth began keeping time with their meteoric brawls. Vegetation sprung up and gave food for Ronas children, the waters rose and receded in a steady beat against the shore, women bled and conceived, seasons came and seasons went, and the two came to see that their differences quickened life and blessed the earth. Rona saw the life that her and Te Marama’s pattern of argument and resolution was spawning and knew that the greater good was to stay with bound to the moon. Together the two of them, allied in their attraction and their repulsion, are Hina. Both God and Goddess, neither one without the other.
We could ask where is this story in Mormonism, or Mormon theology or Mormon culture? And we would come up short.
So I would rather ask these questions: What could Mormonism be? What could Mormon theology be? What would Mormon culture look like if refracted through this story? Who would our brown and black Mormon daughters believe themselves to be if for once our own stories and our own wisdom were shared in our Mormon communion?
In answering this question, I believe that our theology would blossom and flower.
I love this lullaby bestowed upon my own tribal ancestress Ahuahukiterangi from her grandmother Hinekitawhiti an ancient womanist artist and composer. I leave it with my brown and black Mormon daughters… with love:
Kia tapu hoki koe nā Tuariki, ē!
Kia tapu hoki koe, nā Porouhorea!
Whakaangi I runga ra he kauwhau ariki ē
You are bedecked with the ornaments of Wharawhara
To signify that no one may mistake you,
Te Paekrua pendant from your ear, Waikanae in you hand-
Precious things for you, maid!
Copyright Gina Colvin 2015