Hura kōhatu

Unveiling the headstone

Hura kōhatu - Unveiling the headstone

Planning and carrying out hura kōhatu (unveiling the headstone) can be very comforting for grieving whānau. Choosing a headstone and the correct words to write on a headstone is an important opportunity to whakamana (to give prestige to) the spirit of the deceased. The actual unveiling ceremony often involves many whānau and friends who observe spiritual formalities such as karanga (calling) karakia (prayers, incantations, and chants), hīmene (hymns) waiata (singing) and whaikōrero (speechmaking). Some whānau book out the marae and stay the weekend and it is a time to gather, to enjoy each other’s company (which itself is healing) and partake of a hakari (feast) after the unveiling.

Some whānau hold two or three unveilings on the same weekend; this can be very comforting for whānau pani who join together to remember those gone and to shed tears. Being together and comforting one another is another way of lifting the mamae (emotional pain) and pōuri (sadness). The period for conducting hura kōhatu can vary whānau-to-whānau but it is usually 12 months following the deceased’s death. There are often other circumstances to consider such as work commitments, public holidays and in some instance’s financial considerations (headstones are often very costly, for example) and the costs of hosting an unveiling can be expensive.

Jeff talked about the preparation for Ripeka’s unveiling as a healing time for him:

Well that was a big process for me, and it was part of my healing is actually, organise the stone I did it really early. It was about April, end of April I made a special trip up there. And I sort of knew, had an idea what I wanted, and I was just looking at this [Jeff’s pounamu] … And, and that’s the inspiration I got [from his pounamu]. So, I went down to the stone masons and says, oh, he gave me a basic layout because I wanted. Oh, there was another issue at her tangi, but I’ll bring this up because I think it’s an important part of her headstone.

We talked about it years ago and she brought it up at least once a year, where I was going and I knew where she was going, but she sort of put the word out there where you know, ‘One day when you go, where do you want to be buried?’ And I said, ‘Well close to my father.’ And I was thinking about it you know five years after my father passed away his, his part of the cemetery isn’t fenced up, it was full. So now they’ve got a new section across the railway lines and I was thinking in my head ‘well I’m not going to be as close to him as I thought so what am I going to do?’ So, I just left it there. But when I was lowering, I had the privilege of lowering her down into her final resting spot and it was so deep the message sent to me, ‘Dear, I’m joining you.’ That’s the message I got… Yes, because even they [whānau] were going, ‘That’s deep.’ And I says, ‘You know, I think she wants me with her. She doesn’t want to be alone.’ So, I made a commitment from then… Deeper than it needed to be, and she was preparing herself for me joining her.

The pounamu Ripeka had given Jeff inspired him to design Ripeka’s headstone:

So, when I got around to designing the headstone I had, because I had that message, I designed it for both of us. And being strong people, we always had a connection to the whenua. So, I got my inspiration on the gift that she gave to me with the pounamu and that’s our connection back to the whenua… Yes, I’ve got the actual shape from that because I says, ‘Oh,’ I went down to stone masons says, ‘oh can you do me something like this?’ He goes, ‘I haven’t done one like that, but,’ he says, ‘yeah what would look really good if we actually went wider. So, we get that, that in. Because normally they’ve got so wide, but we can do one that wide and that will look really effective.’ So, I ordered it and I spoke to my daughter and said, ‘What colour shall we do mum?’ And she goes you know, ‘Black with gold writing.’ So, come December I phoned the stone masons, stone mason, I said, ‘Oh, you know it’s getting a bit close. What do we need to do?’

And he says, ‘I’ve got an issue.’ I say, ‘What the issue?’ He goes, ‘I opened the crate yesterday and I’m too scared to tell you,’ and he goes, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘You know how you ordered it in black?’ And he goes, ‘Yes.’ ‘It’s actually green.’ And he says, ‘Would you like me to order another one? I don’t know if it’s going to come here in time.’ He goes, ‘No. There’s forces above that you don’t know about, that I’ve known about, that’s, been influenced from outside forces,’ and I was thinking about Ripeka because I’d seen her father’s when I ordered mine, his stone was sit, sitting there. And, I was going, ‘Yes. She’s going same colour. Same everything.’… Yeah. And then I accepted that, and I was going, you know, ‘What type of green is it?’ But when I saw it on the day, it matched the pounamu I’m wearing.

For Jeff finding the right words to write for Ripeka’s kōhatu took time:

I spent 6 months thinking about it. And it was actually last minute. I think two weeks, we had two weeks before her unveiling and I still hadn’t come up with the words and I knew that, my father in law, my mother and my Aunt ah sister in-law had been in to sort my father in law’s out. They had the words and I was going, ‘What’s the fitting words for my wāhine?’ And it just come to me, within two minutes I had everything written and I was writing fast and I couldn’t even read it and it wasn’t until after I’d written it and went back to it and I goes, ‘That’s her. That’s her to a tee.’… It could have been [my] side to say, ‘we’ll help you out.’ Must admit it could have been my karakia I said in the morning, yeah… it just slotted in place.

It was a triple unveiling, next to Ripeka was her father then her uncle. All three covered with their Korowai, waiting:

In a sense I’m still the same as I was the day before, so actually look forward to it and then and then to watch that process go through. But the thing that sticks out in my head ’because we did a triple… We did the triple unveiling is, all three of them, standing tall with their korowai on. Oh man I was in tears… They all had korowai… Her father was next to her and then on the other side of her father was her uncle.

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