Tangihanga, kawe mate, hura kōhatu

Māori whānau are creative and adaptive

Tangihanga tikanga can be different for different iwi, hapū and whānau, and it can differ marae to marae. Tangihanga tikanga can also change and adapt overtime. The Pae Herenga study participants provided examples of how they adapted their tikanga to suit their own circumstances and how they made arrangements to accommodate different situations and circumstances.

Jeff reflected on his wife Ripeka’s tangihanga. The wharenui (meeting house) where the tangihanga was held was being renovated at the time and some whānau had come up with a novel way of putting their marae on the map using neon lights. These were turned on for the first time during Ripeka’s tangihanga:

They were actually doing up the wharenui at the time of the tangi. Soon as they got word, the scaffolding come down. But they forgot to put the name up there. Aunty’s looking as if to go, ‘Jeff get up there and put it on!’ But they took all the scaffolding down. Yeah, just cleared the front and put it around the back… their wharenui, so there was no carvings, simple paintings. They’re quite clever up in [name of place], they got a ‘first’ that no other marae’s got… they lit the… two barge poles [and] the centre ones that go like that [gesturing] on the front [of the whare]. They’ve got that decked out in neon lights with Māori signs on them, Māori koru on it. And the first time they turned it on was when Ripeka was lying next to it. All lit up. That’s it, the only marae in New Zealand yeah. Spin on. Because they can, they don’t believe in glorifying; there’s no carvings in that marae but…some have come up with a real clever way of putting that marae on the map… All lit up.

Pato (health care assistant) talked about the changes in traditional tikanga practices she has observed. She gave an example of the changes she has seen on her own marae:

… it used to be (like things have changed a lot) that the whānau, the immediate family could not eat for three days [during tangihanga]. They could drink, which we usually have a runner go to the kitchen and bring the drinks out; whānau pani will come out and have a drink. And then they’ll go back into the wharenui…. [this happened] about, 12 years ago… now [the whānau pani] can have a feed.

Using technology at tangihanga

As technology continues to advance, it offers up new ways of being connected and new matters to be taken into account in terms of the way things occur during tangihanga, for instance using cameras to take photos or live stream tangihanga. Taking photos during tangihanga is a personal choice, but this practice may not be allowed at some marae or by some whānau, hapū or iwi. Whānau have different views of what is culturally appropriate for them and what isn’t.

When asked if people were taking photo’s at Ripeka’s tangi, her husband Jeff said, ‘Yeah, there were a few around.’ Jeff explained why he didn’t take photos:

Yeah and that’s something I purposefully didn’t take a photo, a camera with me that day. I just wanted to catch the moment because taking pictures you lose it. I just, I just wanted to experience the whole [occasion] and [daughter] was the same.

For some whānau it is considered tapu (restricted) to take photos or videos during tangihanga, and for others it is not. For Ripeka’s and Jeff’s whānau, however, it was considered tapu. Jeff explained:

It’s tapu [restricted]… because it’s the [spiritual] staunchness in that area. They hold on to everything [tikanga and kawa], and you know, it’s one of the few places in the country that have [that still]. And I value them for that.

Kuia K. discussed the use of technology at end of life. She used examples of whānau sharing photos on social media and video-streaming at the nehu site (burial site). While she didn’t necessarily agree with it, she also didn’t think it was her place to criticise the use of technology in those situations because it supported whanaungatanga; it helps to keep whānau connected:

Oh I think there’s so many things that shock me, and yet I’ve got to think, ‘But it’s not about you. It’s the way they want to do it.’… I find things happen as [each] whānau wants it… I have seen people; [they] have these laptops and taking pictures and they’re talking [to] whānau [as someone is dying]. ‘This is Pāpā,’ then they show it. ‘This is Pāpā, he, he hasn’t got a long time.’ And they’re in Australia, all over. But they’re keeping in touch. Who am I to criticise? … If I have time in Australia and this was happening, would I want to do the same? You know I try to put myself in their place and I try not to be critical and say, ‘Oh I wouldn’t want to do that.’ But maybe if my whānau wanted to do it. You know? ‘What’s wrong? Is it the wrong thing to do?’ That’s how I look at it, you know.

But… you talk about whānau, whanaungatanga… that is what it’s all about… I’ve seen even when they put them down [bury the body]’, even the service, even when they bring the mate [deceased] on. I’ve seen that all… on video… and they’re sending it back while it’s happening to the whānau who couldn’t make it. You know? Is that wrong that they should use those sorts of things in here? What do you say? Let them go? Is it bad? But they’re keeping in touch with their whānau - they couldn’t come… but they’re there. They know what’s happening. They can see everybody else and they’re having their tangi[s] [tears]…

In her kōrero, Kuia K. highlighted that good use could be made of technology:

… to me it’s making good use of technology today… we have to move with the times and these things are given for us. Let’s make good use of it. And I’ve seen many families making good use of it… And I [have] questioned, oh, I said, ‘Yeah, but that’s them… if you had people, family over there [overseas] and they want to do that, would you say ‘No’ to your family?’ You know, I put myself in their place. Would you say ‘No?’ You’d be a bad sport if you did.


*Some kaumātua may want a high degree of involvement in deciding what happens to them when they die and others are happy to leave the arrangements to their iwi, hapū and whānau to decide, as they are experts with thousands of years of experience to inform their practice. Preferences differ between kaumātua, for example, some want their body to lie in a flax waka tūpāpaku (woven casket) while others may prefer a plain pine casket, or a casket carved by a loving mokopuna instead of an expensive wooden casket. Discussing and planning these things in advance can be very helpful (see Advance Care Planning documents in the Te Ipu Aronui library on this site)

*If the kaumātua wants to be lie in state at their marae and they wish to be cremated then discuss this with the kaumātua on the taumata (senior elders and speechmakers) as they will be able to advise the whānau on the protocols of that iwi and marae.

*If the kaumātua wishes to be buried at, an ancestral urupā it may be a good idea to discuss this with local whānau to see if this is still possible. Many urupā are becoming full and spaces may be limited or reserved for others.

Burial or cremation?

Kaumātua may wish to voice their preference over what happens to their tūpāpaku (body) after they die. Historically, iwi and hapū observed traditional methods to inter tūpāpaku. Some of these practices and processes took many months to complete. In former times, specific iwi may have trussed the body into a sitting position. Bodies were cleaned and placed in caves, cages, or swamps, or hung in trees to aid the body’s natural decomposition. Kō iwi (bones) may have been retrieved, scraped and then buried in a permanent home. Burial is still the preferred internment method among Māori today.

For many reasons, including financial costs, cremation is becoming increasingly popular with Māori. Some whānau may choose to retain someone’s ashes and join these with another whānau member’s remains when they die. Other whānau inter the ashes in an existing burial plot with another family member. However, if the burial plot is within a Māori ūrupā (cemetery), permission should be sought from the hau kāinga (local people of the marae, home people) who take care of the urupā (cemetery). There may be local tikanga in place about interring ashes, for example, some iwi and hapū may not allow ashes to be buried at their urupā. In regions where burial is the normal practice, they may not have yet had to consider the burial of ashes. Further, some iwi do not allow ashes to be scattered on specific maunga (mountains), awa (rivers) or on their local moana (ocean). There are also whānau who do not wish to be involved with cremation because it is contrary to their personal or religious beliefs. However, the financial cost associated with cremation may be cheaper than purchasing a burial plot.  If a kaumātua wishes to do things differently to the traditions of their iwi, it is advisable to discuss their wishes with their whānau and the haukāinga as early as possible to avoid tensions arising after someone had passed away.

Whaea S. (nurse) reflected on practices around burial versus cremation. She highlights that many Māori want to return their remains back to Papatūānuku (Earth Mother):

… if we look back, and I haven’t done a lot of research about pre-European Māori… [but if] we look back there was already, you know, the [tikanga] were set out. And the inherent-ness and our knowledge is there. … the more earth-based ethnicities already know, whether it be from a religious perspective or not, there is an affinity [with Earth]. We know this, very few Māori get cremated. Why? Because we bury them. That’s just how we are… We give back to the earth.

… if you have a look at our whānau that are disenfranchised… in Australia, they still bury their whenua (the placentas). Some of them send it home. And if a whānau die over there… [and] they don’t want to come back they bury them. Very few of us [want to be cremated].

When asked if she is seeing more Māori being cremated, Whaea Linda (Hospice kaiwhakahaere) responded:

Lots of cremations going on at the moment for our Māori families; lots getting cremated. But here for [name of place] whānau, fortunately a lot of our whānau got double graves. So, because we’ve got our urupā’s been closed down over in one of our urupās in [place]. So, some of them are fortunate they’ve got spaces over there. But otherwise, cremation is just the norm.

Ivy-lee’s kaumātua engaged in a discussion of kawa regarding burial and cremation. Ivy-Lee conveyed her understanding of this discussion:

... it was because of the situation that was happening with... the cousin [name] coming back [to lie at our marae]. So, there was- it was a double-barrelled karakia. It was discussion, around the cremation of the body. They were gonna cremate, instead of bringing her back to the marae. Well it... created discussion... So, all the kaumātua came together... [Quoting the kaumātua] ‘Look what’s happening... is this pai?’... And they discussed past... ah, cremations... what happened in those situations. And finding- trying [to] find an answer in there that would suit the whānau.

[Cremation] It’s brand new, yeah. And so now, these discussions had to happen. So, because they wanted karakia as well, they also brought that discussion into the house. It was awesome. It was amazing, it was like ‘Look at this! Look at this’. 

Ivy-Lee went on to express why she would consider cremation:

Well that’s the thing…because I’m open... to what’s happening in the world, and the movements of... well... the lack of space in the urupā, for one. I want to go down by my grandmother, why can’t I go down over there? There’s no space. Well, it makes sense. Cremate me, pop me in over there... you get more in there... It just makes sense.


*We recommend you consider all your options to see what suits your whānau. The  site below (do it yourself tangihanga and funeral services) provides helpful advice on planning and carrying out a funeral service.

You do not have to enlist the help of a formal funeral service if you do not want to. If you want to you can do everything yourself (except embalming). There is information available that can walk you through the process.

© Copyright 2024 Te Ipu Aronui

Website crafted by bocapa. Design by Sasha Maya