A Māori academic is questioning whether modern funeral practices adopted by Māori are tika, or correct.
AUT Professor Hinematau McNeill is part of a Marsden research project about decolonising Māori burials – with her hapū Ngāti Moko of Te Arawa a case study.
She says practices such as embalming, building coffins with materials that don’t easily bio-degrade, and even concrete headstones are not part of pre-European Māori tradition – and are detrimental to tūpapaku and the environment.
“In actuality, most of what we do has been adopted from our colonial past. And a lot of the practises that we are doing are not good for Papatūānuku,” she told Waatea.News.Com.
Prof McNeill says her research will look at pre-European practices and how traditional Māori burial customs might be adapted for contemporary use.
According to Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Māori tangihanga practices started to change in the late 19th century.
Up to then, Te Ara reported that Māori practice was to smear the tūpāpaku (dead body) with kōkōwai (red ochre) and oil, then sit it up. The knees were tucked under the chin and the arms wrapped tightly around the legs. The body was then wrapped in whāriki (mats) and cloaks. In this seated position, the tūpāpaku would be placed on the veranda of the main wharenui (meeting house) to receive the farewells of their community over a number of days.
Tūpāpaku were then buried in shallow graves or placed in caves or sometimes hollows in trees, further mourning ceremonies were held on the marae and the bones were buried in secret places.
But with the arrival of Pākehā, Māori tangi practices change with the majority of Māori communities using undertakers and burying their dead, like European settlers, in caskets or coffins.
Gideon Porter, Waatea.News.Com