The M (r)evolution caused quite a stir last week. Not surprisingly you may say! Apart from the novelty of the menstruation cup, the ructions were more about the M-word itself!
It strikes me that much female talk about menstruation is usually in reference to PMT, fertility issues or at the other end of the spectrum - menopausal hormone challenges. All real, no doubt, but often tinged with a backdrop of pejorative notions and sensibilities around our sacred time – menstruation.
I’ll never forget the look of pain and regret when a 40something Johannesburg mother, Ntombi, told me about how sorry she was that she ‘missed’ her daughter’s first period. She was travelling on business and received a call to say that her daughter had seen her menarche. Ntombi efficiently organised some sanitary towels and told her daughter they would talk when she returned home.
Tears welled as Ntombi recalled her own menarche remembering how her mother and aunts joyously honoured her in the rite of passage from girl-child into womanhood. She told me about a special ceremony, the words of wisdom and the empowerment boost she felt as she was welcomed to a new world of female accomplishment.
Her lament that day, was not only her absence but she confessed that even if she were at home, she wouldn’t know what to do. The matriarchs who had birthed her evolution into womanhood were no longer around.
Ntombi felt she had failed her daughter and as we spoke, she became even more angst-filled as she acknowledged that she had underestimated the value, beauty and power that her matriarchs were celebrating at her menarche ceremony.
As she spoke my mind flashed back to my matriarchal circle and how during a family holiday, my aunts recalled their introduction to womanhood. Light years away from Ntombi’s ceremony, theirs was closer to her daughter’s experience. They told me of the indignity they felt for years as each month, they hung their seven pieces of cloth, duly scrubbed lily white, on a line in the yard against the backdrop of the green hills of Trelawny, Jamaica.
Some of my aunts were in the midst of their own private summers (read: menopausal hot flushes) and so theirs was a tale of at least forty years of nestling shame around their menstrual period.
As I learn more about the rituals in menarche ceremonies across the world and the folklore, mysticism and sanctity linked to our menstrual cycle, I’m stunned at how detached we’ve become from the potency of our menstrual time.
Rites of passage
There are many reasons why ancient cultures in Africa and around the world honoured the menache (the first menstrual period) as a rite of passage. Many still do.
So what of our contemporary culture? Our monthly gift which the sages tell us augurs new life, prosperity and blessings has been relegated to a biological function spoken about in hushed voices. Ntombi’s story, a short generation ago, illustrates a diminishing heritage of female-centric power that we will lose at our peril.
We may not all have access to indigenous knowledge of time-honoured rituals but we can all create space for revivication each month as we renew the goddess within.