You wouldn't think walking around a cemetery was a pleasant way to spend some quiet time. But in Rotorua it is and especially at this time of the year. Thank you to all the families who tend the graves of loved ones in the Rotorua Cemetery. At present it is a riot of colour from the flowers and Christmas decorations that adorn many of the headstones.
There is even a full size Christmas tree beside the grave of a young girl. In Rotorua you can visit at any time of the year and you'll always see many flowers, pot plants and well cared for plots. I know many people who take their own lawn mowers, weed eaters and clippers to the cemetery to get at the places that are not touched by the council workers who maintain the cemetery.
They mow the lawns with a ride-on mower and that appears to be it. It is the families who make our cemetery a surprisingly cheery place.
It is not sad and depressing and the headstones today are as individual as those buried beneath them. The inscriptions are words from the heart and you know the person was dearly loved and missed still by those who visit and tend the grave.
On Christmas Day the cemetery was like Grand Central Station. People coming and going. Even at 7am people were already there visiting. At this time of the year in particular we remember those who are no longer here with us to share the festive season.
But there are smiles and people greeting each other. Some are laughing and joking calling out to their relations visiting other graves near by and there are a few sitting quietly on their own. Cars toot all day as people drive past using this as their friendly salute to their family member buried in the cemetery. This doesn't only happen on Christmas Day. All year round you'll hear people toot as they drive past.
Living close by and being able to visit family in the cemetery is still important and remains a priority for many people.
Sadly Mr James Takamore's partner Denise Clarke of Christchurch has been denied this opportunity. Mr Takamore died in 2007. His family stepped in and, against her wishes, took his body and brought him back to his tribal area for burial.
Ms Clarke has been to the High Court, Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court seeking to disinter Mr Takamore's remains for burial in Christchurch. Shortly before Christmas the Supreme Court ruled in her favour. Knowing Tuhoe as I do Ms Clarke, who is pakeha, is in for a long wait irrespective of the Supreme Court decision.
I can understand the importance of family members being brought home for burial. It's not so much the deceased's wishes or indeed that of his immediate family that is the priority here. By returning to your own tribal area you are ensuring that your children, and their children, retain this connection to their whakapapa, whenua, whanau, hapu and iwi.
It may not seem that important at the time, and even to the current generation, but in the future it will be.
Where you come from; the place names, your river and mountain defines who you are as Maori. Coming home keeps this relevant for future generations.
Families return home because their parents are buried back home.
They often start to take an interest in tribal affairs, even while living away, and are prepared to get involved. By burying family within their own tribal areas the whakapapa connection is kept alive. It was the old way of whanau and hapu showing how important future generations were to them. These would strengthen their numbers and add mana to the iwi. It was customary law. For Tuhoe in particular these old ways have never died. On the contrary they are determined to keep them alive.