Hinetitama is one of eight works in the Wahine toa series which celebrates the essential female element in Māori mythology. Hinetitama is dawn, the first true human. She was the daughter of Tane and Hine-ahu-one who bound earthly night to earthly day. She became Hine-nui-te-po, the Goddess of Death, after discovering that Tane was not only her husband, but also her father. She is shown here becoming fragmented as she changes from an earth-dweller into the Goddess of Death.
The interpretation of the women in this series can be seen as a feminist reading of traditional Māori mythology. Kahukiwa attempts to redress the conventional portrayal of women as less important than their male counterparts.
Hinetitama is an example of the bicultural style that is common in contemporary Māori art. Traditional subject matter is fused with a Europeanised style. While the figure is strongly representational as is typical in Western art, the symbolism which is an integral part of the work identifies it as Māori.
- Tane is depicted as a stylised tiki superimposed upon the figure of Hinetitama and forming the bones of her arms.
- The lizard represents Maui in the disguise he adopted when he tried to triumph over death.
- The foetus represents the children of Tane and Hinetitama – the human race.
- The spiral is an important element in traditional Māori carving. Here it represents the ten overworlds. The horizontal layers of colour represent the ten underworlds.