The Kwaio people of the Solomon Islands live in villages that are organised according to sex, elevation and left and right. The anthropologist Roger Keesing wrote in his famous Kwaio Religion – The Living and The Dead in a Solomon Island Society from 1982 about this remarkable society.
In the middle of the village are houses where men and women live together. Then on higher ground to the right there is a men’s house, and on lower ground to the left there’s a menstruation hut for the women. Further lower still, there is a birthing hut.
The women gather at the menstruation hut and menstruate together. Much of their verbal knowledge and cultural heritage is transmitted between the women at these times. For the Kwaio people, menstruation is seen as the equal opposite of the blood men shed at war or sacrifice. Women and men are understood as each other’s opposite half, in a way. Same, but different.
When reading about menstruation huts or lodges, we often read that the women “withdraw from society”. I don’t think that is a good way to look at it, because it implies that a) society resides with men and b) women are often excluded from it.
Although I can understand that it can be understood like that, I choose to think of it differently. I think that the women take a part of society with them to the hut, where they practice particular forms of cultural knowledge. It is where women reproduce their society, the secret society that is for women only. This secret society doesn’t exclude men because they are thought less of or anything of the sort. It excludes men because it centres around something that only happens to women’s bodies.
Menstruation is seen as something extraordinary in all the societies I have read about (I’ve studied anthropology, so that’s a few). When a woman menstruates, she experiences changes beyond the bleeding. In our modern world where the focus often is on keeping going, we might not notice it so well, but they do in other societies and cultures.
One of the most wonderful changes is that of belonging. The women join together and bleed together, and frequently, their cycles become synchronised. Isn’t that marvellous? Nature conspires to bring women together and let them nurture and each other. Together they share herbal remedies, tend to each other and delve into the magic of womanhood.
Some may think that menstruating women are polluted or unclean, but I think the opposite is true. For me, menstruation is a sacred time. Moonblood brings with it a heightened state of awareness, insights and understanding. It also brings about a regular catharsis where we can process emotional baggage and renew ourselves.
For those of you who are interested in tuning into your natural cycles, Jing has some fab tools here on the site. Both the Period Tracker and the Mood and Lifestyle Tracker are great for getting to know yourself and regulating your cycle. Try it for yourself – and tell your friends!
Finding the community of Cycle Harmony has made a huge difference to me. I am delighted to be writing to you from the Red Tent and hope to share thoughts and experiences you recognise, or find useful to ponder upon. I look forward to working with you all in exploring what it is to be women, and hope to hear from you. ~ Vild