Tangihanga, kawe mate, hura kōhatu

Professional Funeral Services

"Each whānau has their own histories, stories and memories (colonisation, land loss and language loss, for example), life experiences, family compositions and living circumstances."

Starting conversations early about tangihanga/funeral arrangements can make a difference to how things go when someone dies. There are people with professional knowledge and experience who can support whānau with these conversations and there are tools that can also assist. There is also information online that can help.  Enlisting the help of a Funeral Director can be supportive at a time when emotions are heightened. It is a relief to hand this over to someone you know and trust. Discussing, or pre-planning, what will happen when the kaumātua dies is not something that everyone feels comfortable with.

Kaumātua and their whānau may not wish to focus on dying because their focus is on living. Therefore, they may see conversations about dying as morbid, frightening and unhelpful. Some whānau also believe that to talk about death will somehow bring it closer (karanga aituā). However, for those that do want to think ahead, giving some thought to what the kaumātua wants to happen can be very helpful and can make it easier for whānau to manage things when the time arrives. Contacting a Funeral Director and discussing the services they provide, and the things families need to take responsibility for can help to provide clarity. For example, there are processes that need to happen such as registering the death with The Department of Internal Affairs. Although whānau can do this task themselves, it is a task a Funeral Director can easily do on your behalf.

Going one-step further, having a pre-arranged funeral can help to reduce stress when the time comes. Having a plan that carefully documents your wishes can help to make decision making easier when the kaumātua dies. The kaumātua and their whānau could consider what they want to happen at their service, as well as practical things: to be embalmed or not; to be buried or cremated; to have a harakeke waka tūpāpaku, a plain pine casket, a deluxe model, or perhaps an echo friendly one. Pre-planning can also help with the type of service you want (the kaumātua and whānau can select music or specific waiata and scriptures they want read). Pre-planning can help to reduce the load on whānau having to make decisions at a time when they are likely to be feeling very emotional. They could also be busy caring for other bereaved whānau and hosting manuhiri.

Funeral services offer different plans (depending on your budget and requirements); a baseline service for a cremation for example, may incorporate the uplifting of the tūpāpaku and transferring it from the place where the kaumātua died, and include a cremation casket, the actual cremation (including an urn) and returning the ashes to the whānau. A full service can include the registration of the death, the uplifting of the tūpāpaku from their place of death, embalming and treatment, a casket with a personalised grave maker and flowers for the casket. It can also include funeral service sheets, a funeral hearse for transportation of the tūpāpaku to the tangihanga. Some funeral services offer pre-paid funerals and payment plans.

Having a Māori funeral service offers many advantages for Māori whānau. Whaea Linda (Kaiwhakahaere) explains:

… we’re blessed with having our own Māori Funeral Director here in [place]. [Name of service] are beautiful. They’re from Auckland. He chose [our area]. Was supposed to have been South Island but he chose [here] anyway but. So, anyway they, it’s a beautiful service… [Name] was part [of it], well they, they link in together this one … Well he’s got a service over in [place] and he’s got one in [place]… but see that’s what’s so unique about all of us is that we can connect all around the motu [country]. Once he’s done whānau that have rung up from here to Australia and things like that.

Matua P. [hospital kaiwhakahaere] talked about embalming being the main practice used by whānau:

We do have a Māori undertaker that’s moved into the [name of] district who does service over here as well.

… they offer the whole package as far as tikanga, wairuatanga, you know manaakitanga and all that.

Local funeral services can be very expensive, and whānau may not be able to afford their prices. Matua P. (hospice kaiwhakahaere) supports whānau when dealing with funeral services:

I had dealings with the local undertaker down here who was just all about how much [money] he can get from you. And many a times I’ve had to sit with family… because when you lose somebody, you’re at a real vulnerable stage. So, when you lose somebody whatever you hear that’s going to make you put that person on a … real high stand... And I heard that with this local undertaker, knowing that this family wasn’t a very financial family, and [the funeral director] tried to make them spend thousands more than what they really needed to.

When he [undertaker] offered them [family] advice on which coffin to take, and he opened it up, he opened his book up and he put it down and he said, ‘Oh this is the most common one and your father would look lovely in this, you know, Redwood.’ So, I said to him, ‘Well am I able to have a look at the book?’ And I said, ‘Can you take us back to the start?’ So, he took us back to the start. This coffin I think was about near on $4000 just for the coffin. And he took us back to the start and he put the book down and I said, ‘Right,’ and I flipped the page over and I said, ‘How much is this one?’ And it was just ordinary pine like this. And he said, ‘Oh that’s $800.’ And I turned straight to the family and I said, ‘Your father would look lovely in this.’ I said, ‘It’s not the car that makes the man, it’s the man that makes the car.’ You know, and just little things like that where you know they’re grieving, so let’s not take advantage of, of their situation.

Financial cost of tangihanga

There are many financial expenses associated with conducting a full tangihanga. These include the various costs including with professional funeral services, transport, marae hire, catering costs, burial plots (if not using an ūrupā or private cemetery).

Kaumātua Arena also spoke about how their whānau (marae) provide kai (food) to whānau pani (bereaved families) as a koha on the first night of the tangihanga:

… the first night, we donate the marae. [Name] marae will donate everything on the first night… what we do [is] we supply enough kai for the first night and usually there’s ample left over for breakfast the next day.

Whaea Tina said that with her support her daughter and her whānau will organise everything concerning her tangihanga and the financial side of things before she dies:

I mean I’ve already planned my funeral; I’ve already paid for my headstone, so all my daughter has to do is just put the wordings and that on it and, yeah.… but when it comes to stuff like that, I can talk to her about it cause yeah, ya know, she’s strong and pig-headed like me so which is good, I think.

When asked whether whānau were being cremated, Kuia K. reflected on the financial cost of burial being a driver for cremation among Māori whānau:

I find it’s a matter of frankly, cost… It’s the cost. Now I had experience with a friend whose father died. He was a kaumatua; he had a Pākehā wife, she died earlier and of course she was left at home. Ah he died. He, his brothers, his uncles all came and, and he was lying in his house. And I happened to be there too. And these uncles they said he, he was from [name of place], ‘We must take him nephew, must take him back let him lie on his marae.’ And the nephew said, ‘There’s only my brother and I, Uncle. We both don’t have full time jobs. Our vehicle’s not in good running condition to go that distance. Ah and we can’t afford to.’ ‘So, what are you going to do?’ ‘We’re going to have him cremated... The fact is, we don’t have the money Uncle, we just don’t have the money.’ So anyway, the uncles were all disappointed...

Whānau who live and die in another country may find it is expensive to bring the tūpāpaku back to New Zealand to be buried. Whaea Linda (hospice kaiwhakahaere) shares her family experience:

Like my sister, her wish was to be cremated from Australia, but we said, ‘No, you’re coming back in a casket,’ and we brought her back in a casket. Yeah, well it was about $16,000. That was… [in] 2010.


*We advise kaumātua and whānau who live in Australia to discuss the older person’s wishes while they are still able to make decisions. If kaumātua wish to have their bodies returned to Aotearoa (NZ), and they are unable to bear the financial cost of this themselves, the whānau could contribute to this end of life preference by setting up a savings account, or they could take out funeral insurance to make this possible.


Financial support from WINZ

Some Pae Herenga participants were able to access some funds from Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) to help with their funeral costs. There are criteria that have to be met to qualify for this financial support.

Ivy-Lee spoke about how after her father passed away, WINZ assisted in supporting the whānau with the costs of the tangihanga:

… they [WINZ] also would support in his funeral costs. And so, whatever that amount of money could be… we haven’t gone through that process, but that’s what they relayed back to us… money to help with funeral costs, and that money would be going directly… to the funeral home. Like [to] the undertaker who cared for Dad.


*Finding out what the process involves after someone dies, and knowing what your options are, and the costs involved, can help you to plan and prepare for what is to come.

*We recommend that if the kaumātua and their whānau manaaki feel comfortable talking about their tangihanga then it might be helpful to speak to a Funeral Director as early as possible. If you do not have personal experience of using a funeral service, you could ask other whānau members, friends and neighbours who have used local services to find out who could provide the best service for your whānau. You may wish to use a Māori funeral service, or you can ask if a Māori funeral director is available. Internet searches are helpful for locating funeral directors.

*Informing the Funeral Director who the next of kin are, and whether the kaumātua wishes to be embalmed, buried, or cremated (and where the ashes are to be scattered) is helpful. Funeral Directors can offer options as well. Pre-planning and becoming informed about the options can help to lift some of the responsibility off whānau when the kaumātua dies.


We recommend you view these helpful resources:

Guidelines for creating a funeral plan

Community Law

The online Community Law Manual includes a chapter aimed at helping families and whānau when a loved one has died. It explains the kinds of things that will need to be done – from making sure all the paperwork for the burial or cremation is completed, to later steps like dealing with the deceased’s will and property. It also explains who is involved in different processes, what things may need to be taken into consideration and who can carry out different responsibilities:

Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand

The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand has a searchable database of funeral directors in New Zealand. It also has some useful information about what to do when someone dies:

Citizens Advice Bureau

The Citizens Advice Bureau have information on their website about your rights, including rights in relation to deaths and funerals. Use the link below and type terms, such as funeral and death, into the search function:

Work and Income New Zealand

In some cases, whānau may be eligible to apply for a funeral grant from WINZ to assist with some funeral costs. The funeral grant is income and asset tested:

Veterans’ Affairs

If your loved one was a military member (current or past) of the New Zealand Defence Forces or NZ Armed Forces, and depending on their circumstances, your whānau may be eligible to apply for entitlements from Veterans’ Affairs, including a one-off funeral grant, plaque and headstone funding and others.

© Copyright 2024 Te Ipu Aronui

Website crafted by bocapa. Design by Sasha Maya