Caring for kaumātua before and after death

Te Ipu Aronui’s Kete Tuauri

"Tāne’s journey to obtain Kete Tuauri was important because it contained sacred knowledge of creation, the natural world and patterns of energy that operate behind the world of our sense perceptions."

Kete Tuauri contains information about the tikanga (customs) and kawa (ceremonies) that support whānau pani (bereaved families) to take care of those they love after death. The whānau comforts the wairua of the deceased; they take practical care of the tūpāpaku (body) and they support their whānau pani by drawing from their whanaungatanga connections and aroha (love, care, compassion). This is all part of good holistic end of life care after someone dies.

Each whānau pani's Kete Tuauri is woven together with aroha, cultural and spiritual knowledge, and skills that guide and support whānau pani after their kaumātua has died. Every part of caring, including the emotional, physical, spiritual and practical aspects that support the dying process, caring for the deceased’s body, and supporting the whānau pani is informed by Māori spiritual knowledge and skills. Spiritual care runs across and through every aspect of living and dying; it includes the care of the person’s tinana (physical body) and wairua (spirit) before, during and following death, and it includes care of the whānau pani (bereaved family).

Dying - Tuku te wairua

When the time comes for the wairua (spirit) of the kaumātua to leave their body and travel to te ao wairua (the spiritual realm) a minister, or a whānau member with a strength in spirituality will provide karanga, karakia (prayer) and/or mōteatea to help them transition. This karakia to release the spirit is known as tuku te wairua. The faith observed by the kaumātua determines the spiritual prayers and cultural processes that will take place. These can include variations of Christian practices and traditional Māori approaches; some practices are known only to whānau from specific iwi and will not be included on our Te Ipu Aronui website to preserve the privacy of whānau manaaki who shared their stories in the Pae Herenga study with us.

As death approaches whānau do not wish to leave the dying person alone; they may give them massages and karakia to help the wairua (spirit) to depart; waiata (singing) takes place and the body is prepared for tangihanga (funeral customs) and interment (disposal). There are protective tikanga (customs) put into place such as the restriction of food around the tūpāpaku.

Whanaungatanga (a sense of family connection) strengthens and comforts dying kaumātua to let go and leave their body. Waiata (singing) may take place and whānau will speak lovingly to the kaumātua as they are dying. Wailing and crying are all acceptable forms of expressing loss, as is the falling of mucous from the nose; these are considered normal and healthy forms of expressing mamae (emotional pain) associated with the death of a cherished kaumātua.

Whaea Raina talked about the tikanga (customs) that could help whānau to care for people on their end-of-life journey, such as karanga, mōteatea and karakia. For her, these practices help to prepare the dying person’s consciousness to transcend at time of death:

I believe karanga, mōteatea and karakia all radiate the same vibration. And that vibration is a vibration of wellness. It’s a vibration that connects kauae runga ki te kauae raro. It’s a vibration that opens portals so when they’re ready, they can go. And… they’re put in a nice state of mind to release and go rather than being locked in fear and stay in purgatory. Okay and then karanga sends them off. Mōteatea helps create that - that state of consciousness that allows them to transcend. That’s what I’d like to see.

Kaumātua Wii spoke about how he carried out the tuku wairua (karakia to release the dying person’s wairua) with karakia when his wife passed. This was important so that her spirit could be released and guided back to her tūpuna. During this time, whānau were there to support and be with her:

But when she passed away, I did a karakia…ah tuku the wairua, that’s calling all the ancestors and Heavenly Father, you know, angels and all that, to come and guide her spirit back to them, yeah, to look after, to care for it yeah.

When talking about the things that whānau should observe at the time of death, Whaea Aggie highlighted that the wairua [spirit] must be helped on its journey:

When a person passes away (see a lot of people leave it), but you’ve got to tukua te wairua [release the spirit]. You know, once that person’s gone you’ve gotta tukua the wairua. So that, that [spirit’s] journey doesn’t get hindered. And that’s what happens with a lot of our urban families, they don’t have people there to tukua te wairua, to, to let that wairua keep its journey going. Even just a simple ‘Our Father’ you know, a simple ‘Our Father’ and then say, ‘We’ll let your wairua go.’ As simple as that. Doesn’t have to be these big flash long, karakia...

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