Families firm as death divides them

By Juliet Rowan

The whanau's case

James Takamore's whanau will not give up his body without a fight.

"It's beyond the family now, it's a tribal issue," spokeswoman Tania McCormack said yesterday.

"It's become an issue for Aotearoa, across the motu [islands]."

Ms McCormack, who described herself as Mr Takamore's "whanaunga sister", or sister through family connections, said the whanau would continue to resist any attempt to exhume his body from Kutarere, southwest of Opotiki.

"We don't want violence, but at the same time we want to protect our culture and our beliefs. He's buried in our wahi tapu, sacred grounds, now."

The whanau's decision to take Mr Takamore's body from Christchurch and bury him at Kutarere against his partner's wishes has prompted mixed reactions among Maori leaders.

Ranginui Walker, former head of Maori studies at Auckland University, said on Thursday that it was done in ignorance and it was time "Maori learned they live with Pakeha law".

Mr Takamore's cousin Tawhai Te Rupe reacted angrily to Dr Walker's remarks, saying, "Who am I to tell him what to do in his hood? Who is he to tell us what to do in ours?"

Ms McCormack said: "When it comes to our marae, which is our bastion, it's the law versus the lore. We're maintaining the lore."

The Takamore whanau and members of local hapu plan to meet at Kutarere Marae on Monday to discuss the exhumation order obtained by Mr Takamore's partner, Denise Clarke, and decide their next step.

Said Mr Te Rupe: "That body doesn't move until that process has taken place."

Marae kaumatua Solomon Manuel said they accepted Ms Clarke would fight hard to get her partner's body back.

Mr Manuel was in Christchurch when, against Ms Clarke's wishes, the Takamore whanau took Mr Takamore's body.

He said Ms Clarke should have fought harder to keep her partner in Christchurch and not left the marae when conversation between the two sides became heated.

"If she wanted her husband to stay there, she should have stayed there, irrespective of what happened."

He had tried to explain to Ms Clarke why the whanau wanted to bury Mr Takamore at Kutarere, next to his father, and said she was wrong to feel threatened.

"When you don't know nothing about Maoridom, you may feel that way. That's how Maori debate things when it comes to that sort of issue."

Asked if Ms Clarke and her family would be welcome at Monday's hui, he said: "If they find it in them to come, we won't stop them."

Mr Takamore's uncle, Toby Wikotu, thought the family should attend so they could "hear the korero [discussion] first up".

Mr Manuel let the Weekend Herald walk up to the hillside cemetery to photograph Mr Takamore's grave.

"I don't think he'll get a better place than up there," he said.

"I feel for the family, but he's here now. Let him to rest."

The partner's case

Denise Clarke says she will do whatever is necessary to retrieve James Takamore's body.

Speaking from her home in Christchurch, Ms Clarke said she was not surprised the Bay of Plenty whanau had vowed to stop any attempt to exhume her partner's remains.

"I know they're going to put up a fight," she said. "But I'm not giving up, because what they've done is illegal and they know that."

Ms Clarke and Mr Takamore were partners for 25 years. She is the mother of his children.

And yesterday she reacted angrily to remarks from the whanau that they were shocked that she had got an exhumation order.

"What did they think I was going to do? Why would they be shocked by it? They think I'm just going to sit back and do nothing?"

Ms Clarke said Mr Takamore's death and the removal of his body from Christchurch and burial at Kutarere had been "devastating" for her and her two children.

"It's a nightmare. It should never have happened."

Mr Takamore was born in Taneatua, near Whakatane. He had lived in Christchurch for nearly 20 years and, says Ms Clarke, wanted to be buried there.

The 55-year-old's body was lying in state at Te Whare Roimata marae in central Christchurch when whanau members arrived and said they intended to take him back to Kutarere.

Ms Clarke said an argument erupted. She and her family were threatened and so left the marae.

"We were terrified. They knew that and they took advantage of it."

The whanau then "sneakily" loaded Mr Takamore's body into a van and, despite Ms Clarke calling police, left before she returned to the marae the next afternoon.

She was highly critical of police, saying they should have enforced an urgent court order banning the burial which she obtained immediately after the body was driven north.

"They should've acted a long time ago. He should've been brought back here before it got to this."

She now wanted officers to quickly exhume her partner's remains, saying it was wrong that they planned to do nothing until further discussions had been held and an "amicable agreement" reached between the parties.

"I don't know what they want to discuss because they're not going to come to a mutual agreement."

Her son, Jamie Clarke, told One News: "If we can't get a court order to work and can't get the police to help us, what the hell is a meeting going to do between families, when we both know what we want. They're adamant he's staying there and we know he's coming home."

Permits to exhume a body are issued by the Minister of Health after a court hearing, and police are given the authority to exhume the body.

But Bay of Plenty district commander, Superintendent Gary Smith, said there was a process of "negotiation and talking" to go through before any action would be taken on exhuming Mr Takamore.

Funeral directors say disinterments are a regular part of the job

Funeral directors say family disputes involving the exhumation of bodies are rare, but disinterments and repatriations are a regular part of their business.

Funeral Directors' Association president Michael Hope says family disputes over burial places are a legitimate reason for seeking exhumation, but don't usually involve a body being spirited away before an arranged funeral.

"It's usually after the burial when they realise they've made a mistake as to where the person has been buried or who they've been buried with," Mr Hope said.

"That's quite a legitimate reason. Sometimes things happen on the spur of the moment, when emotions are high."

The Ministry of Health issues about 50 disinterment licences a year, but while that figure equates to almost one a week, Mr Hope said the number of exhumations was tiny compared to the 28,000 burials in New Zealand each year.

"As funeral directors, it's part of the services we provide," Mr Hope said.

"We're familiar with all the documentation and protocols that need to be done to get permission for the exhumation."

But individual funeral directors would be approached only infrequently about exhumations.

Mr Hope, who lives and works in Dunedin, said that in his 20 years in the funeral industry he had arranged only three disinterments.

Requests were made for a wide variety of reasons.

Urban development in Auckland and Wellington had forced the relocation of bodies in cemeteries earmarked for roading alterations.

An entire cemetery on the North Island east coast had been relocated when a river eroded the hillside site.

Mr Hope said families sometimes requested a disinterment where they had buried a child and then moved to another part of the country. In some cases, they might ask for loved one's remains to be exhumed and cremated before being relocated.

"I've experienced that a couple of times, where a baby has been exhumed and taken to where a family has been living for some years. That seems to make sense," Mr Hope said.

Mr Hope said police would often contact a funeral director to co-ordinate the exhumation.

In Dunedin, the local authority prepared graves and used contractors to do interments and disinterments.

Exhumations don't come cheap.

"It's usually a reasonably costly exercise, mainly because we're very careful with health and safety precautions," Mr Hope said.

Exhumations were often done early in the morning so visitors to the cemetery weren't disturbed "and it doesn't become a public spectacle".

Bodies were sometimes disinterred so they could be sent overseas, Mr Hope said.

The Greek community was often involved in repatriating bodies.

- NZPA

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