Tangihanga, kawe mate, hura kōhatu

Loss of knowledge

Many Māori whānau today have lost contact with their cultural heritage and knowledge and need some help to fill their Kete Tuauri. One of the main reasons we have developed Te Ipu Aronui is to help whānau who want some support and don’t know where to start.

The loss of vital cultural knowledge can have a profound impact when it comes to arranging and holding tangihanga. However, some marae and kaumātua are available to help their whānau should they be in need of that support. Reconnecting with our ancestral homes, spending time in the landscapes of our ancestors, and becoming more involved with te ao Māori (the Māori world, communities and people), can provide valuable opportunities to learn more about who we are as Māori and the various tikanga that support our cultural preferences at end of life.

In his interview, Kaumātua Arena spoke about whānau preferences of the tūpāpaku returning to the marae, even though many whānau do not have knowledge of the specific tikanga and kawa that takes place at the marae:

Everybody wants to go back to the marae. Everyone. Even those that have never been here…They whakapapa to here. And they all come back. And soon as [the whānau bring the tūpāpaku back they] haven’t got a clue what to do… we [kaumātua] come as soon as they come and [we] make them sit down, explain, “this is what you do.“

Kaumātua Ned pointed out that not all whānau have a kaumātua, which means that sometimes he will take on this role for others in the community when they die in the hospital:

Kaumātua Ned: No, not all whānau have kaumātua. And not all whānau come in when there’s a tangi. Sometimes tūpāpaku lie there without anybody … So, we sit there with them… Yeah, because the family are so distant and parted. So, I guess, the life journey that they’ve had…if they’ve distanced themselves from their family members… it’s very difficult to find people. One… body I took all the way back to [place] - nobody was with him the whole time… Left him in the marae with one sister and two nephews. That was all [done] in the moment.

Whaea Jane [Ned’s wife]: So, we waited because we knew him through his waka… that’s why we took ownership of his body. And then we had to wait in the car park for the whānau and yet we had contacted them in the morning… [we said] that we were coming down and they said ‘yes, they would be there [at the marae] that afternoon’. Well we were [waiting] and they said about 2pm, so we geared for 2pm. We had to still wait… until someone came from their whānau to open the marae for us.

Kaumātua E. talked about whānau seeking support from people like him when a family member passes away because they do not know what to do:

I suppose in modern day era a lot of whānau pass away. When they pass - the actual whānau don’t know what to do… So, they look at us, now. They’re looking at me now and say, ‘Oh uncle.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, follow me.’

Drawing on an experience from within his whānau, Kaumātua E. shared a situation where a cousin had passed away in Hamilton. He supported the whānau by bringing the tūpāpaku home:

And like my cousins… When their brother died, I said to them ‘What’s the hold up?’ [Quoting cousin] ‘Oh he’s in Hamilton.’ They said to me, ‘Oh he’s still at the undertakers...’ and then so I went up… Yeah, we put him in, got him ready, put him in [the vehicle], took him home. If I hadn’t of done that, they would have been still left up there because they were quibbling about who’s going to pay for it… the funeral directors [fees]. I said, ‘Look you fullas, it’s not about money, it’s about respect for your brother.’ I said, ‘Come on, let’s go - worry about that afterwards.’… Just some of the modern things [whānau have to consider].

Kaumātua Hugh expressed that when living in a big city, it is difficult to remain as connected to your hapū as you would like, such as coming back to attend tangihanga. He felt that this was contributing to the gradual loss of tikanga and kawa for Māori:

… Because you know with, with Māori you could have time off every day of the week when somebody passes away but you know if you’re working for, for a company or for somebody you know there’s, there’s a limit as to how you do that. And there’s a limit too as to how many times a year you can do that. So, you need to be very, very choosy and I think, I got to a stage where if they weren’t somewhere up in my first cousin’s [line] you know or closer, then I didn’t go [to the tangihanga]…

While speaking about protocols being different at each marae and in each region, Whaea Raewyn reflected on her upbringing in Auckland and how much she has learned since being married to Hugh and the role she plays to support bereaved whānau:

It’s difficult in that each marae has its own protocols, and each area has its own protocols, so it’s not generic. All I can say is that you awhi them [whānau panui] in the way they would like to be awhi[d]. Awhi is the main thing… To help them in any way that you can and to any way that helps them… [S]ince I’ve been with Hugh, I had no, concept of Māoridom because I’ve been brought up in Auckland and then lived here for all those years and was married to a Pākehā so I only saw my [Māori] whānau now and again… but since I’ve been with him it’s like I go with him, I awhi him. I waiata for him now. I do the things that I’m meant to do [as a kuia] I hope! And my role, I see my role to him is to awhi him and the whānau in any way I can. So, if they need a shoulder to cry on, they can cry. If they need some advice, I can give it. If they need some help in the kitchen, I can give that. It’s whatever. It’s broad spectrum…

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