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Tangihanga, kawe mate, hura kōhatu

Tangihanga

Tangihanga (funeral) is a tradition that remains intact despite colonisation. At a tangihanga, you can see the heart of iwi, hapū and whānau culture in action, where each observe their own tikanga (customs). In former times, tangihanga decisions belonged to the iwi or hapū, however, given the diversity of Māori today, and the independence of kaumātua, many are discussing their preferences or making their own arrangements long before they die. In addition, some are choosing to have tangihanga that are not strictly traditional. Many whānau continue to uphold their traditional tangihanga customs. However, some whānau have adapted their traditional protocols to accommodate their lived experiences and needs. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic saw many iwi, hapū and whānau adapt their customs during lockdown in response to the newly introduced tangihanga policies and social distancing measures that were introduced at that time.

Planning and preparing for tangihanga

Many whānau are very traditional in how tangihanga are planned and carried out. However, in other whānau it is the living that makes all the decisions about what happen once the kaumātua has died (as it has always been done in their family). Today, many kaumātua want to be involved in planning their own tangihanga or funeral before they die, and this can be a great help to whānau. Kaumātua may communicate their preferences in person to specifically chosen family members or they may express their wishes in their Will. An Advance Care Planning document is another place their wishes can be recorded; this covers end of life care and post-death preferences (See the link below). Some whānau prefer to combine aspects of traditional tangihanga and non-traditional funeral practices, depending on their preferences and circumstances. For example, whānau may prefer to have their loved kaumātua’s tūpāpaku lie in state in a family home followed by a church service. Others may choose to have their kaumātua lie in state at home and then go to the marae for the funeral service on the day of burial. Sometimes the financial costs associated with whānau traveling to their ancestral marae and hosting the tangihanga at their marae can influence them to hold the tangihanga elsewhere. Preparation and planning plays a significant part in carrying out a well organised tangihanga.

While reflecting on a recent tangihanga she had attended and how smoothly it ran, Aggie spoke about how she has since communicated her funeral preferences to her whānau:

… what I’ve done with my kids; I said to them …’When it comes to my time…  I don’t want a big flash box… It’s just a waste of money’. So, my youngest son said, ‘It’s alright Mum, I’ll just go and get some plywood and build you one.’ I said, ‘that’s fine… but, you know I don’t want a white or blue [one]… just a nice pretty colour, and then let my mokos and anybody who wants to leave a message, just write all over it. Just leave a message’ I said. And I’m to go on top of my husband, hey!

In Devi-Ann’s pūrākau, ‘Our brother George’ she describes how her brother exercised his independence and made decisions about his own tangihanga at the end of his life, with his family’s support. This included making plans for his tangihanga (funeral). His story includes some comments from the researchers at the end.

‘Our brother George’ by Devi-Ann Hall

Click here to read transcript if preferred

Where tangihanga are held

Kaumātua may want to return to, or their whānau may wish to take them to, their ancestral home when they die for a traditional tangihanga on their marae. If this is not possible, then whānau manaaki may be able to help the kaumātua before they pass to connect with people at a local marae to discuss the possibility of holding their tangihanga there. Some regions may have urban marae or ngā hau e whā (the four winds); these community marae are inclusive of all iwi and people. Many kaumātua, or their whānau, are choosing to have their tūpāpaku lie in state in their home, or a relative’s home, until they are laid to rest, some choose to use a chapel and others a combination of home, chapel and marae.

Whaea Linda (hospice kaiwhakahaere) talks about the different places where tangihanga are held:

… there’s all different tangihanga styles, eh? Like at home, tangihangas, to take home. Or else going to the Church for their tangi. Or going to the marae so. And that’s all covered by tikanga and yeah. It’s all covered. Ah, that’s if they request Māori, if they request our traditional [tangihanga], yeah. Well it’s not even about the iwi. It’s about the whānau in general. That’s what they’re doing now, because of financial reasons too. So, they’ll have their tūpāpaku at home for maybe two nights and then take them to the marae for the last and then for the hākari… in the Church they do the same. Like they might just go home. You know, they might go home, lay at home. And then go to the Church and have their service and then maybe just a spell at the marae, or it might be the other way around, church, marae, church… Yeah, they’ll have a couple of hours on the marae and then straight to the urupā.

When asked about where tūpāpaku were lying in state, Kuia K. said

That whānau [I was speaking about] were having their loved one who had passed away [i]n the home… not in a marae… too dear in the marae. You’ve got to have money to take people to a marae.

Advice

  • Some kaumātua who moved away from their ancestral homes when they were young (often to find work in the city), may wish to return home when they die. However, their whānau manaaki may not be familiar with their ancestral homes or the people there. This can cause tensions when whānau manaaki return unexpectedly for a tangihanga, particularly if their family does not know the tikanga of their iwi and marae.
  • If someone in your whānau wishes to return to their ancestral home to have their tangihanga there, or to be buried there, we advise you to visit your ancestral homes and reconnect with the ahi kā (people who live on the land). Taking a trip home before the kaumātua dies can be helpful for reuniting the whānau and having an open discussion about their desire to return home for their tangihanga and burial.

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