Tangihanga Kawa

Funeral ceremony

Length of tangihanga

Many things can influence the length of a tangihanga, including personal circumstances and preferences; for example, there are financial costs to be considered such as paying the funeral director’s fees, costs to transport whānau pani to the marae, marae hire fees (if charged), self-catering expenses to cover food and beverages. Whānau pani also have to take into consideration the condition of the body at time of death and how long it will maintain its integrity, especially when embalming fluids are not being used.

Tikanga for tangihanga

We recommend that you contact someone from your iwi if you are unfamiliar with the protocols for tangihanga. The exact format the tangihanga takes depends on the tikanga of the deceased person’s iwi and these protocols should be checked out before manuhiri arrive. Each iwi, hapū and marae will have their own way of doing things. Local marae also has their own particular ways of doing things as well. Ask the kai karanga or the taumata (orators) for guidance over specific things such as the tikanga that covers the use of korowai at wāhi tapu if you have any questions.


If a kaumātua wishes to be cremated and then return to their marae for a tangihanga or burial, we recommend that the whānau discuss this with their iwi, hapū and marae while the kaumātua is still alive. Some marae will not allow the kō iwi (human remains) or ashes inside the wharenui. Some iwi and hapū will not allow ashes of to be placed in ancestral urupā (graveyards).

We recommend you should think about how you and your whānau will take care of the ashes. If you want to scatter these, where will this be? We recommend you discuss this with your iwi first. If you want to scatter them somewhere else, we recommend that you avoid areas where people swim, eat, and drink the water, as the ashes are tapu (restricted). Check the local policy’s in your area as ashes are prohibited from being scattered in some areas and places.

We recommend that karakia be said when ashes are moved from place to place, home to home, as they are tapu and as such are covered by spiritual restrictions for the protection of the whānau. If you take the ashes into your whare (home) after you have blessed it, you will need to think about how you will prepare your home to take the kō iwi ashes into your home.

We recommend you check the regulations concerning the fibre of the casket or waka tūpāpaku as cremation processes require that caskets have a strong base (the base needs to be strong enough to slide into the cremator).


We recommend that if a 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 possible. Many urupā are becoming full and spaces may be already be reserved for others.

Using a local, non-ancestral marae for tangihanga

If it is not possible to take the deceased’s body to an ancestral home then whānau manaaki may be able to help them connect with kaumātua at a local marae ngā ahau e whā (a community marae that is inclusive of all iwi and peoples) to discuss the possibility of holding their tangihanga there. Remember, that all the usual financial costs will be the responsibility of whānau pani

Preparing for tangihanga – Funeral costs

Planning tangihanga can be helpful to reduce financial stress when the kaumātua dies. Some whānau have tangihanga saving accounts where everyone regularly contributes. This can help to cover travel costs or expenses associated with tangihanga when needed. Remember that whānau pani cover the costs of tangihanga and in addition to the funeral directors’ fees this can include the marae hire costs and catering expenses. Talk to the funeral directors about reducing their costs. There are things they may be able to suggest to help whānau reduce costs (transport the tūpāpaku themselves, for example). However, in the event of another pandemic this may not always be possible. If the whanau is, pōhara (impoverished) or on a Work and Income Benefit (WINZ), they may be eligible for some financial support. Check the criteria and information out with WINZ.

Returning home

Before the kaumātua dies we recommend taking the trip to an ancestral home to reconnect with the ahi kā (those who live there) as this can be helpful for reuniting whānau. It also provides an opportunity to discuss their desire to return home for their tangihanga and burial. Kotahitanga (achieving unity through a collective decision-making process) will help things to go the right way when the time comes.

Kotahitanga - Planning and decision-making

We recommend that kaumātua and whānau manaaki dis cuss the older person’s preferences for post-death care, tangihanga and their internment preferences. Many things can be sorted out in advance and the process of kotahitanga can be very supportive of whānau pani who are likely to be in a state of grief after the kaumātua dies. These types of decisions can be difficult to make when someone dies. Discussing, planning and recording the preferences of kaumātua in a document such as an Advanced Care Plan can help to show others in the whānau what their wishes were. Appointing an Enduring Power of Attorney for medical and financial matters and discussing these preferences with them can help to ensure the kaumātua gets what they want and their whānau are supportive.

Pōwhiri – Welcome Ceremony

The pōwhiri (welcome ceremony) is conducted to welcome the tūpāpaku and whānau pani onto the marae. Pōwhiri continue throughout the tangihanga to welcome manuhiri (visitors) who arrive to pay their respects to the deceased and to bring their aroha to their bereaved whānau.

Lifting tapu (restrictions)

After the haukāinga (people of the marae, home people) and manuhiri have observed whaikōrero (speechmaking), mihimihi (tributes) and waiata (singing), the manuhiri will be invited to partake in a light meal in the whare kai (dining hall) before leaving the marae. Partaking of kai (food) provides nourishment to visitors (some people may have travelled a great distance to pay their respects), however most importantly, eating food and drinking beverages is a ritual that assists with the process of whakanoa (to free people from the spiritual restrictions), and to lift the tapu (restrictions) associated with death.

Whaea Raewyn said ‘Humour is such a big part of caring, of after care. You know, I mean we’re all absolutely saddened by these things…’ Her husband, Kaumātua Hugh, spoke about humour during whaikōrero helping the mood on the marae during a sombre occasion:

And you always will have the odd character within the hui and nothing these people are specifically born, I suppose, to play that sort of role when the occasion arises. You know that they can see that the whole marae is really down and sad. You know. And he get up and give his whaikōrero and of course he’ll be off, he’ll go off in another direction… and get their focus and get them to listen and have a bit of a laugh and then go back to the stuff… it pulls them out of that space.

Tangihanga kawa (funeral ceremony)

Once inside the whare tūpuna, karakia (prayers, incantations, chants) are said by the taumata (orators) including tohunga, ministers and kaumātua who sit on the paepae (officiating bench). All sing hīmene (hymns) and waiata (songs). In some iwi, karakia come before waiata and in other areas they are sung afterwards. Those appointed to this role give whaikōrero (speechmaking) and mihimihi (tributes). As each new group of manuhiri (visitors) arrive stories are told (sometimes the same ones), tears are shed, and humorous anecdotes send laughter rippling through the wharenui (ancestral meeting house). There may even be stern words spoken directly to the kaumātua if they have left before they completed an important project for example. These exchanges soothe emotions and comfort the family’s grieving hearts.

In their whaikōrero the kaumatua are trying to uplift the grieving family. Kaumātua Arena said:

Of course, the main role is try to wear the majority of the pain for, for want of a better word. But we, we tend to take over and, and not dwell, on the death itself. I talk, I celebrate. And I talk about the life of that person. And, and trying to take away the heaviness of the pain. And ah, by through telling stories, of their, elders in that family that’s passed on, about him, himself, the person who’s lying there himself. They’ll tell stories about him. And I always say you know it’s not only the good stories to hear aye…And so I, I do a lot of ah story telling…

Kaumātua Arena spoke about the order of mihimihi during that his whanau observe during pōwhiri for tangihanga:

Arena: The first kaimihi (speaker) is when you hear somebody outside, they are usually announcing when they are calling back to the marae (cultural complex), to the whare (house), eh? They are really acknowledging who they are – so we noho (sitting) on the taumata (speakers' platform) we know who they are – so the first speaker will acknowledge that by going through the whakapapa (genealogy). Oh, here's the connection to the people coming on and then we don't carry on talking about all this other rubbish. They didn't come here to talk about the Waitangi claims or water view and everything, they come here for that reason, the tangihanga (mourning ritual) …

The second one will acknowledge all that, and the third person, unless there's really a dignitary there I might allow four people to kōrero (speak), eh. The third one usually tells them the paeroa (timetable [of service and nehu burial)], which is you know the day and the time and who's going to officiate, and all that.

Whaikōrero - Speechmaking

Karanga – Call, summons

Women provide the karanga (traditional call or summons) to bring people on to the marae ātea (space in front of the meeting house), and into the wharenui (ancestral meeting house). The woman’s voice is the first voice that is heard – her ethereal notes weave together wairua (spirit), space, time and people as they welcome manuhiri (visitors) to join with mana whenua (people of the land). The karanga (call) connects the living and the dead and sets the kaupapa (agenda) of the hui (gathering). The soulful rangi (tune) of her voice sets the tone of the occasion and brings people fully into the spiritual realm of the tangihanga. Tears fall as memories of the loved kaumātua flood the mind and the heart overflows as manuhiri may there was slowly towards the whare tūpuna (ancestral meeting house).

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