• Sun, 28, Jan, 2018 - 5:00:AM

How do we hold a tangi when the deceased elected to die?

I have never really considered Te Ao Māori a world that is uncomfortable with death. While my Pākehā friends have been to maybe a few funerals in their lives, I have many, many memories of slipping off my shoes and creeping into the wharemate. Being swallowed in the bosoms of my kuia, all of whom are swelling with a deep outpouring of emotion, of grief. They whisper softly that it is lovely to see you, that it was just ‘too soon’, and finally you creep right up to the coffin to stare politely at the tūpāpaku before you. Ten minutes later, as you leave the wharemate, you hear someone make a joke, and all the nannies cackling in chorus.

As Māori we spend our time on earth celebrating life, and celebrating death too. Love for each other and our kāinga is woven between all threads of family gatherings. I recently spent some time with my cousin, cleaning up our urupā. Under the hot sun we cleared long grass from the headstones of our whānau. My cousin told me about some of our burial techniques. How my great-great-grandfather was buried in pumice, which draws all the moisture out of a body in our own very unique method of body mummification. ‘Cool’ was all I had to say.

In this day and age Te Ao Māori is very much affected by death of a negative kind. A Ministry of Social Development report from 2016 (Te pūrongo oranga tangata) stated that there were 119 Māori suicides in that year; that number equating to 21.6 per cent of all suicides in 2016. Mate whakamomori is a pain from which many of us never recover, an issue that unequivocally must be addressed in Aotearoa.

Euthanasia however, is a different issue. Last year David Seymour’s ‘End of Life Choice’ Bill passed its first reading in December. Many Māori MPs were quick to back the bill, but the Reverend Chris Huriwai was quick to question Māori backing on Twitter. Reverend Huriwai posed the questions:

“How does a kaikaranga respond to calling on the body of someone who elected for themselves to die?”

“How does someone who’s doing whaikōrero mihi to the departed with that sort of ever-present reality in the background?”

In 2016 I spent two months helping my pāpā through sickness at Tauranga Hospital. It was a harrowing infection of the blood, one that hurt his mind, soul, and heart. Through all of the process, he often said that he wanted to go, to return home. Once when he first began to hallucinate, I sat alone with him at night. I remember him waking up in a moment of clarity to say that his tīpuna were there, that they were talking with him. After two months of constant attention from either our whānau or medical staff, he passed away in his first night on his own. In the end he got his way, he chose to leave; it was the right time to do so.

He had no assistance in his death, at least not from anyone in this world. But as a whānau we did discuss the matter of termination of life support. While life is precious and beautiful, I would personally consider it neglect to drag someone through life, at the cost of their own physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing in the long term. In Tūhoe the word Matemateāone sums my thoughts up perfectly. It speaks to a certain unity of all life, a oneness between us all. By dirt and clay we were born (as was the first human - Hineahuone), and by dirt and clay we all eventually die. Such is the ara that we all take in life. Euthanasia is a conversation we desperately need to have, within our whānau, wider iwi, and national circles.

Te Ao Māori has never been afraid of death. In this life we must care for those around us, and eat the sweetest kai that we can. But when the right time comes to die, we will go through all due processes. The kaikaranga will call to the departed, and if they elected to die it will be because it was their time to do so. We will tangi, we will mourn, we will share laughter and kōrero, while our loved ones begin their next journey back to Hawaiki.


  • Kaupapa Māori /
  • Euthanasia /
  • Tangi /
  • Death /
  • Politics /
  • Maori /
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