Caring for kaumātua before and after death

Caring for the tūpāpaku (body) after death

Whānau believe that once the wairua has left the body, and the tūpāpaku remains, the wairua will stay close to the body until the tangihanga practices have taken place. Being with the tūpāpaku and speaking to the wairua (spirit) of the kaumātua or loved one helps to soothe the aching heart of bereaved whānau. There will come a time when the wairua settles allowing the family the opportunity to wash, prepare and dress the tūpāpaku if they wish. Whānau draw on their own tikanga (customs) to care for and protect their kaumātua and their tūpāpaku after death.

A medical doctor will need to provide a physical examination and complete a Death Certificate. Most whānau enlist the help of a funeral director who will collect the tūpāpaku (from home, hospital, rest home or hospice) and transport it to the funeral home. Prior to dying the deceased may have advised their family who they would like to be their funeral director, or alternatively the whānau may choose an organisation they have used before, or perhaps someone has recommended.  There is no legal requirement to use a funeral director and embalming tūpāpaku is not mandated by law. Kaumātua may prefer their whānau use natural methods of caring for their tūpāpaku. However, embalming provides long term preservation of the tūpāpaku and is considered by funeral directors to be more hygenic. During a pandemic situation there will be new policies released for the care and interment of tūpāpaku (check back in 2022 whew we will have the findings of Rapua Te Mārama Covid-19 study available).


When asked about what tikanga and kawa were predominantly used by whānau that Whaea S worked with, she said that tikanga practices observed and upheld tapu (sacred, prohibited, restricted) and noa (without restrictions). In particular, she spoke about the restrictions placed on tikanga involving kai around unwell whānau members and those who have passed on:

Oh, always tapu and noa… if you have a tūpāpaku they become tapu. So, there’s no kai, you know… very few will have a kai in front of the body. So that’s a specific [tikanga]. if the person is alive, then… that particular, kawa is there, or tikanga is there. You can eat while that body is still alive. The minute that they pass I have noticed, and it’s always been because we do it [that way]… it’s just what we do… That’s one I know of that always happens that as soon as the body, they pass on, they don’t have a kai. And even in the house, you know they might be nursing them in the house [but] soon as they pass they close the kitchen you know, hang the sheets or they know that food is [restricted] yeah… [And they will take the kai out to the] shed or around the corner you know…

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