Maori Tangihanga Are Changing The Way All Of Us Grieve For the Dead

One of Kāpiti’s leading funeral directors says Maori tangihanga (funeral processes) are now changing the way all races bury their loved ones in Aotearoa.

Andrew Malcolm, managing director of the Kāpiti Coast Funeral Home, says it’s good to reflect on Maori tangihanga (funeral processes) following the recent Te Wiki o te Reo Maori (Maori Language week).

He says in a past role as a tutor in funeral services he took the opportunity to have a cross-section of Kamatua from different Marae visit and talk to the each year of students.

Variations in Maori tangi

He says: “This gave them all a real insight into how Maori funerals are not universally the same, but vary from region to region and iwi to iwi. 

“Added to this, as owner of Kapiti Coast Funeral Home, and my 38 years as a funeral director, I have been involved with many tangihanga (funeral processes) and attended many tangi.  

“I have witnessed many lovely ceremonies and though some practices are universal, some are not.

The most common things most Maori do as they grieve and honour the deceased (tupapaku) include:

  • Staying with the deceased body (Tupapaku) all the time
  • Dressing the Tupapaku
  • Having the Tupapaku back on the Marae
  • Leaving the casket open for visitors to pay their respects
  • Gathering as family and friends over the 3 days of mourning
  • Eating and drinking in separate buildings than the deceased
  • Burial of the deceased on their ‘Home’ Marae
  • Manakitanga, (hard to interpret but sort of ‘very generous hosting, with love’)

There are lots of additional processes. But these vary between tribal groups and even Marae within the tribal groups, such as:

  • Some Maori will not travel after dark, some will.
  • Some only allow males to speak on the Marae at formal gatherings, some have no restrictions
  • Some will close the casket on the third day of mourning ‘before sunrise’ where others will close the casket at the start of the final farewell service.
  • (There are many other variations)

Blending traditions

He says one of the interesting things for both Maori and non-Maori is the modern blending of traditions including non-Maori ways, and inter-tribal ways. 

“One such addition now is the taking the tupapaku to the residential home,” Malcolm says. “This was not traditionally done with Maroi, they did not take them into a whare prior to the arrival of Europeans, they only took them onto the porch of the Marae. 

“Taking the deceased home was an English and Irish way of doing things. The Irish took the deceased home for a ‘wake’ and the English had a special ‘parlor’ where the deceased lay (which is where the old phrase ‘Funeral Parlor’ came from).”

Cremations now

Andrew says: “Another common change now is for Maori to cremate their Tupapaku. And many of the other modern inter- cultural practices include use of a funeral home chapel, including modern funeral traditions like photo tributes and printed service sheets. 

“While Maori culture teaches so much about good grieving, it also has adopted some of the better European ideas. 

Maori have held many of their practices a lot stronger than the European (but) I like the idea we are all either Tangata Whenua or Tangata Tiriti (People of the Treaty).

“So we share and adopt the better practices from each other. These are for ‘good grieving’ and honouring each others’ loved ones at the end of life.”

He concludes: “Mahi ngatahi (working together) for a better ‘Aoteroa New Zealand.’

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