Whānau pani (bereaved family members)

The whānau pani tend to the immediate care of the deceased, such as the preparation and dressing of the tūpāpaku (body), choosing the type of funeral service and casket, and accompanying the tūpāpaku. Once at the marae, however, the majority of decision making often rests with the kaumātua (elders – koro and kuia) (see Kaumātua leadership).

Whānau pani have the role of being principle mourners; their role is to stay with the tūpāpaku and to be present when manuhiri (visitors) arrive to pay their respects to the deceased and the whānau. One of the most important ways tangihanga benefit whānau pani (bereaved family members) is that they provide the time, space and a safe place to express grief.

Sometimes it can be difficult for whānau to adjust to the tikanga that accompanies traditional tangihanga. Ivy-Lee and her husband reflect on this when thinking about the recent tangihanga of her father. It was difficult for them to be in the whānau pani role, to sit back and not to participate in the mahi supporting the tangihanga at the marae:

Isaac: … But like what Ivy was saying, first time she had to sit there for three days and do nothing. And just stay there.

Ivy-Lee: That was hard. That was so hard.

Isaac: Because we’re always on the go, if I’m not there, I’m, I’m always in the back... [doing the] mahi… Whatever needs to be done. Because the first time that we had to stand back… and not do anything. It was very hard. I know it was hard for Ivy.

Kaumātua leadership

Kaumātua play a vital leadership role for whānau and communities. During tangihanga, kaumātua offer valuable guidance to the whānau pani (bereaved family members) on cultural protocols and processes and help to maintain a safe space for everyone regardless of where the tangihanga is held.

Ivy-Lee reflected on the kaumātua hāhi (church) leaders whom her whānau rely upon for support and how she went about this for her father’s tangihanga:

Uncle [name] was always there. And then [name of uncle] … who’s always been in our family since my grandfather was alive. He’s always been preaching in our family and he’s always been the pou for my, for our hāhi… I started reconnecting with him in the conversation and asking him questions… first of all asking if he would be minister and take… the service at the marae. Also, up the top at the urupā. And I said, ‘It would be very disrespectful of me not to ask you first because of our connection with you.’ … I said, ‘Have you retired? Are you retired?’ [Laughs], he goes ‘No, no.’ I said ‘Good.’ And so, he agreed, ‘Yes I will take it’ and… through the strength of the church, and through prayer [we did it].

Kaumātua will ask the whānau pani about any funeral arrangements that have been made and make sure that the whānau are aware of the local protocols, such as whānau pani not speaking during pōwhiri.

Pato (healthcare assistant) spoke about kaumātua discussing funeral arrangements with whānau:

… and you get pōwhiri[ed] onto the marae after you get back from the undertakers, and then from there…the kaumātua will ask the family, like us, ‘When’s the funeral? Rada-rada-rada.’ That’s ok.

Pato (health care assistant) further explains that whānau pani do not have the last say on the marae. She shared her own personal experience:

… kaumātua [are] valued. You know, in those sorta situations [at time of death]… because where we’re concerned, the kaumātua have the last say, not the family... to do with tangi, oh, you know, family have a kōrero before the tūpāpaku goes up to the undertaker…

We give them [kaumātua]… information…like, I didn’t want my mother buried where she is… [but] at the end of the day, I had no say because I’m whānau pani… Women can speak, but not the whānau pani.

And the… only one that can… not even speak but can talk to the taumata is the oldest brother.

Kaumātua Arena emphasised that during tangihanga the whānau pani do not speak on the paepae (orator’s bench):

With us here [at place] the bereaved family, they don’t talk [on the paepae] eh. Ah it’s left to someone else, maybe an uncle. And, and he will do all the talking for that family. That family is not burdened with responsibilities of finding food or whatever. So, they’re left to grieve. And what [my wife] is eluding to is the taumata when they bring the tūpāpaku into our whare we sort out the day [plans]. Ah what time [something will happen] and who going to conduct the karakia. We make that decision up there. But it doesn’t always work. They always come [here]; they already have ah their own [thoughts] their minds are already made up. See this is how they want it; this is the day they want it. But it’s easier when I stand up and I talk about these things, ‘you know this is the day I want,’ and I give the reasons why.

There may not always be kaumātua available to support whānau taking their loved ones back to their ancestral home after they have passed away. Furthermore, while some whānau do have access to whānau members with Māori cultural knowledge, they may have many calls on their time, limiting their availability.

When asked about how easy it would be for whānau to access support for Māori cultural practices such as going to a tangi, Kaumātua Hugh said that it could

“… sometimes be very hard…” for whānau.

Matua C. highlighted that even for those whānau who do have whānau members with the knowledge may be few and become overextended:

And so, what happens is you have a lot of whānau, and they might only have one or two within that whānau… Who, who may still be carriers of that knowledge…? And so, and, and that’s good but, but even they could become stretched you know... they may not be available at the time…

Manaakitanga – Hosting responsibilities

Traditionally whānau pani have had the responsibility to focus on their own grief. Today, however, with smaller numbers of whānau to sit on the taumata, perform karanga and carry out manaakitanga (hosting) responsibilities (including the preparation of kai (food), whānau pani may be required to take part in the collective responsibility of hosting a tangihanga.

Both Ivy-Lee and Isaac talked about the whānau connection to the second marae, highlighting the importance of taking her father’s tūpāpaku there on the way to the urupā:

Ivy-Lee: The first idea was a drive by, and stop and look… I really wanted him to go to the marae. And it ended up at the marae, he went in there to lay… For about… 20 minutes… To pay respects… because that’s where our Pāpā was… that’s where he preached, and my grandmother… He preached there all the time… That was our marae.

Isaac: You have to go, you can’t just… go past. You gotta go in there. Because those are all the places that he went… So, you gotta go through there, aye.

Ivy-Lee: Yeah, his connection.

Singing helped Ivy-Lee to cope when her father was moved at different times on the day of the nehu; her father was moved from one marae and he visited the next before being taken to the urupā:

So, I did it [sang] from when Dad left, when his waka was lifted from the first marae, and taken to the second marae. From when he was lifted from the [name of marae], and taken out, [said to me] “Stuff it. Here we go. Second song, I’m gonna sing it.” Up to the top marae, up to the urupā…

Spiritual care

It takes a community to raise a child and it takes a community to farewell a deceased kaumātua. Kaumātua who had a strong spiritual faith will most likely have at least one tohunga, minister, chaplain or spiritual leader who will provide the spiritual and cultural support needed. They will take care of the rituals that accompany the older person’s spiritual transition when they cross over, and during the tangihanga (funeral) and they will provide spiritual care of whānau pani (bereaved family). The whānau, with support from a minister, and funeral director will make the funeral arrangements. Tangihanga can be planned to last one day, or up to a week. Tikanga are used to support whānau pani to cope at these times.

In his interview, Isaac spoke about how their son took on a new role when he offered to dig the grave for his grandfather at their urupā:

… I was gonna go and help dig the hole. But ah, you know. I talked to my son and my nephew... I said ‘Son, I’m either gonna go up there and dig the hole for Pāpā, or I gotta stay here with Mum’, with Ivy. He blew me away man. He just turns around and goes ‘No Dad, I’ll go. Me and [name] will go and dig that hole for Pāpā, you stay with Mum”…So, yeah, they went up there and for, for [son] it was an experience because he’s never done anything like that in his life.

Kaumātua E. also spoke about a progression in roles. He reflected on his brother taking on the role of being on the taumata when their father had passed, and now that his brother is unwell Kaumātua E works with him:

Well they normally awhi me if I’m sort of doing the cows [on the farm] da de ra de ra. Now they’re doing it because I got to go on the taumata with my brother… Before I used to be in the kitchen and then you work your way up. When Dad died, I pushed my older brother [out to the taumata] … and now he’s getting a bit on and māuiui, so I’m, ‘Bro, I’ll come and help.’… So, him and I work in tandem.

Those roles are now being passed down and shared with younger whānau members such as his nephews and mokopuna:

Yeah, and then I’ll just ring my nephews up, my mokos… ‘Boy, we’ve got to go up and do this.’ ‘Okay then Pops. Can I take the boat out [to get the fish for the tangihanga?]’ ‘Yep, you go out and get that. You fullas go and get that.’

Kaumātua E. spoke about how everyone had their different roles growing up and they are still in place today when there is a whānau gathering and this is essential for effectively carrying out tangihanga:

In that set up, who [is] best at doing what in our whānau. From then on, we sort of automatically went into those roles… If we’ve got a tangi, we’ll automatically switch in… Everyone knows their role…’

Whānau roles at tangihanga

Many Pae Herenga study participants spoke about the various roles that people assumed or were assigned to during tangihanga; from the kaikaranga (women who carry out the traditional calling), to the taumata (speechmakers), pallbearers and ringa manaaki/ringawera (kitchen hands) and everything in between.

Role of manuhiri – visitors to the marae

Visitors remain at the gate until they hear the women’s karanga summoning them on to the marae. They make their way slowly to the whare tūpuna guided by a kai karanga (a woman or women who reply with karanga on their behalf). These women are at the front as they lead the ope (group of people moving together) on to the marae ātea (space in front of the whare tūpuna). Women and children walk closely behind the kai karanga, and the men behind them. As the visitors arrive on the mahau (porch), they remove their shoes and either take their seat to the right of the whare tūpuna (manuhiri sit on the left), or depending on the tikanga (customs) of that iwi, they may greet the tūpāpaku with a hongi (press their nose gently against the body in a greeting). Alternatively, they either may give the deceased a kiss on the cheek before or after speeches have taken place. Visitors may take a few seconds to look at the photos of those who have already passed through the ārai (veil) which sit at the foot of the casket. Members of the whānau pani going onto the marae with an open may go directly to sit with the rest of their whānau beside the tūpāpaku. The exact tikanga and format depends on the tikanga of the person’s iwi and marae, and these protocols should be checked out before manuhiri arrive.

It often costs whānau money to use the marae for the tangi, but Whaea Linda explains that the biggest expense for whānau is providing food for everyone:

No, I don’t even think it’s that [marae costs]. It’s more to feed people breakfast, lunch and tea right for two days. Yeah, it’s not even about the, [marae hire costs], because the marae’s pretty, you know, pretty generous really.

Kuia K. spoke about the kawa now observed on her marae. With the exception of the first meal, the costs associated to tangihanga held on her marae are the responsibility of the whānau pani. Kuia K. also spoke about the haukāinga (people of the marae, home people) looking after the paepae (orator’s bench) and whānau pani being responsible for providing the ringawera (cooks):

Kuia K: Some of our Māoris [do not know]. They’ll go the marae and they think that the marae committee is going to pay for the time their parents, the person is lying there… and also to feed them… They don’t know… they don’t understand the kawa of a marae, that the whānau takes care of their own on marae.

Interviewer, Tess: Well now you take your own kai and you have; you provide your own ringawera crew, don’t you?

Kuia K.: Yes. Well that’s what we do here… the marae committee provide [something]. The people put on the first meal when they being come on, and then after that the whānau takes over. They, they’re the ringa, they provide the ringa, they’re the ringawera, you know. And… we say ‘The haukainga’s role is on the pae[pae]. We look after you, you mourn and we’re there to greet your visitors. As they come on.’

Kaumātua Hugh also talked about the practical advice that he needs to tell whānau who live outside the area:

… we’re talking 21st century now. So, you find that people that have been away for a long time, will quickly realise where they come from when somebody happens [along] within their whānau, like they have a mate [death]. ‘Ah Uncle? Matua?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Um, we’re coming home today with this body.’ And it puts you right in the spot you know. ‘Okay. Here’s what you do. You bring your ringawera, you bring your grave diggers, you do this, you do that and you do the other and you need people to look after the marae to clean the toilets and all the rest of that stuff. You bring these people because there’s nobody at home to do that.’ So, you lay it on the line.

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