Caring for kaumātua before and after death

Whakanoa (spiritual clearing of environment process)

The tikanga to whakanoa (remove restrictions) or spiritually clear an environment after someone has died is still observed by whānau today. Many hospices, Aged Residential Care Facilitates (‘homes’), and hospitals are also observing this process. Sometimes Chaplains will be called to do this but many times the role will fall to staff or Māori who work within the services. Sometimes it is a whānau member who will carry out this important process.

Whaea Linda (hospice kaiwhakahaere) will sometimes call on the Māori funeral directors to bless a room after someone has died:

One patient I was working with suddenly went into hospice. He was only in there for the night and then he died suddenly. But at the same time, we had two other whānau that had passed on. So, I was pretty tied up. But that particular day I said, ‘Right, no. I’m staying home and having a rest.’ Because you know, you’ve got to look after yourself too eh? And I believe in looking after myself. So, I ring up to [the funeral directors]. I said, ‘Look we’ve got, you know, Joe Bloggs [alias name Whaea Linda has given] has just passed away. Do you think he can go and go and bless, you know hikoi te tapu and bless the room there for us Brother?’ And he goes, ‘Yes.’

The whānau asked me to organise [it]. And that’s another thing that we can’t do is promote any of our Funeral Directors. The family had chosen [this service], had asked me to contact [them] but I tell them to contact them. I knew that the room needed to be blessed and everything after he leaves the house. Yeah, I got them to do it. Yeah, then I got them to bless the house too because I wasn’t able, because our kaumātua were tied up with tangi. Well, yeah, I do but I couldn’t go up the house to bless the house either. So, they did it. ‘Oh, the house has been blessed.’ They’re wonderful, yeah. So, we all roll together now because they’ve been here since September last year… and we just all get on like a house on fire

The good connections Whaea Linda has enables her to bring people together to support whānau:

If I can’t find somebody, I’ll find somebody sooner or later. Yeah, if I can’t find a person to do the right things for the whānau. But sometimes there’s been occasions when I can encourage some of them because I know that they’ve got whānau amongst them and they never ever thought of it at the time because they were in the stress. I said, ‘If you’ve’ got them in your family.’ Yeah, I said, ‘You know they could come and tautoko you.’

Ivy-Lee spoke about how, after her father passed away, a cleaner entered the room and was prepared to whakanoa, to clear the space, however her uncle had already attended to it:

Well, you know, once Dad passed, as we left, then this wāhine comes in. And I saw her in the corridors through the time we were at the, at the hospital. And she was a cleaner, I think she was? But she came in. She was, mm, in her… early 60s… and she looked at Uncle and Uncle looked at her, and he goes ‘I’ve completed it, I’ve already done it’. And she goes ‘Ok.’ Her other role was to come in to clear.

When asked if the whakanoa custom was part of the cleaner’s official role, or if she took it upon herself to do it, Ivy-Lee and Issac [husband] responded:

Ivy-Lee: Yeah, I’m not sure. Because when I walked out, ah, her eye caught my eye, we looked at each other. And it was, she wasn’t looking at me, if you know what I mean… She looked through me… and I said… ‘He tohunga [spiritual expert].’

Isaac: Yeah, matakite [visionary/seer].

Ivy-Lee: Yeah, yeah. And that was her role.

Isaac: Yup.

Ivy-Lee: And I’m not sure if it was her formal role… but she came in afterwards. And they [the cleaner and Uncle] greeted each other. And I just turn[ed] back, because I knew what was happening, but my focus was here. Just turned and then moved… So that was awesome to see… I’ve always known that to happen, the clearing of a space as you move through it.

Lying in state prior to tangihanga

Once the deceased’s body has been prepared it will be taken to where it will lie in state. The tangihanga (funeral) will most likely take place at a marae if the deceased was connected with their iwi, hapū and marae. Some urban whānau may want to have the deceased person’s body stay at home with them and they will conduct their service at home, in a church or hall or perhaps outdoors. It is up to the whānau to decide what is best for them.


  • Not all whānau wish to use chemical embalming methods to preserve the body. If you prefer a more natural method of preparing the body for viewing at the tangihanga then discuss alternative methods with the funeral director or a rongoā practitioner (see the rongoā section on this website for ways to make contact with a rongoā practitioner).
  • A funeral director may be able to offer cooling equipment to keep the body’s temperature cool.
  • If you prefer a more natural casket, discuss this with your funeral director or make contact with local Māori rongoā practitioners to find a local person who makes these or google ‘Maori caskets’.
  • If you wish to know more about these traditional practices see Witana’s (1997) reflections on these customs.
  • We recommend whānau manaaki discuss any post-death care preferences with their kaumātua before they die. They may like to complete an Advanced Care Planning [ACP] document detailing their specific wishes and sharing this with their health care team.

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