Scholarship for womb studies

14 January 2016

Ngahuia Murphy

Ngahuia Murphy

University of Waikato PhD student Ngahuia Murphy has been awarded a $109,700 PhD scholarship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Ngahuia is one of 21 emerging Māori health researchers to receive an HRC Māori Career Development Award in 2015 with a combined total of $1.8 million awarded.

Her PhD is entitled Investigating customary Māori philosophies regarding the whare tangata (womb) and examines censored and marginalised ceremonial traditions related to Māori women through a mana wahine theoretical framework. Theories of mana wahine are concerned with the way Māori women’s knowledge, ceremonies, roles, status, and stories have been corrupted and re-defined through the Victorian interpretative lens of many of the colonial ethnographers.

“For well over 100 years Māori girls and women have been written about in a way that is derogatory, with female sexuality being the source,” says Ngahuia.

“I hope to provide a space for the multiple voices and stories of Māori women to converge in exploration of our own sacred knowledge traditions related to the whare tangata. By reclaiming traditional philosophies that celebrate the whare tangata I hope to produce knowledge that is emancipatory, decolonising, and transformative for Māori women, girls and the entire whānau.

“This research can be used to foster the self-esteem and cultural identity of Māori women and girls and encourage them to celebrate their own mana and tapu, bequeathed them by their ancestors. In doing so I hope to play a part in overturning some of the negative statistics concerning Māori women and girls that are partly a consequence of the loss of our cultural identity contained in our cosmological stories, matrilineal knowledge and ceremonies.”

Ngahuia’s research will also draw from the layers of information housed in artefacts and art to examine the cosmological origins of Māori women’s ceremonies, the philosophies that underpin these ceremonies, and their evolution through the work of Māori artists and healers. Māori historians and experts and key cultural informants will also be interviewed to gain a deeper understanding of the significance and continuation of Māori women’s ceremonies.

Ngahuia completed a Bachelor of Social Science in 2007 with a double major in Māori and Human Geography, a graduate certificate in Tikanga Māori in 2009 and her Honours Degree that same year. In 2011 she completed a Master of Arts and is now coming to the end of the first year of her PhD.

“The HRC Māori PhD Scholarship is extremely prestigious and it’s an honour to have the recognition and financial support of the Health Research Council. It is incredibly affirming to have such an organisation recognise the potentially transformative significance of this research for Māori women and their whānau.”

Mahonri Owen was also awarded a PhD scholarship for the development of a neural interface for prosthetics of $111,550 over 36 months.