A Tangi is a Maori funeral.
While I was in Russell, Whaea (pronounced fire) Mona died.
Whaea is the formal word for mother. Family would call
her Mama - In Maori words, 'A' is pronounced with a long sound like 'ar'.
Whaea Mona (and 'O' is pronounced or) had been very
prominent in the community in Russell
and surrounding areas. The town closed down and
people came from far and wide.
A tangi always lasts for three days... And there is aways an open coffin
for family and community to come and go and grieve and
say goodbye. Usually this all happens on a Marae (Maori
meeting house) but because Russell doesn't have a Marae
the coffin lay in Mona's home and the funeral service
was held in Christ Church.
People bring flowers, left here at the church gate, which are
taken to the cemetery. Everyone at the burial, at the
end of the committal service takes a flower and
throws it on the coffin in the ground then pays
respects to all the members of the family who all line up.
A hongi (touching noses) or handshake, condolences to each member...
All part of the Maori culture and tradition.
Everybody was in the church except for the family...
Who gathered at the gate to carry and escort the coffin.
Just outside the church door were all the children of all ages
from Te Kura O Waikare (Waikare School).
They sang as the family and coffin entered the church.
They are amazing, such powerful voices, beautiful harmony...
Maori people have music and rhythm in their genes.
They don't have music or words... They learn the songs
from birth and at school and sing at lot's of occasions.
The whole school had come for three days.
They stay with the deceased's body and sleep anywhere in the house...
As does anybody else who wants to. In Maoridom,
when a person dies, the body is never left alone until it's
buried in the ground and covered over.
It's traditional for a Maori person to go back to their
place of birth to be buried. Often people re-locate and want to be buried in
the new place the've inhabited, where perhaps they have
married and bought up a family.
The dead person's wishes are totally ignored, the
remaining whanau (family) make the decision.
Whaea Mona came from the Waikato, so whanau came
to take her back there. Whanau in Russell wanted her
to be buried there... Hence the body is never left or it
would just be taken away. In this case agreement was
reached and Whaea Mona was buried in Russell.
The Russell cemetery is on top of the hill,
a lovely place to rest in the sun.
As is usual, there was an officiating elder, but also
speakers from all tribes, iwis and community organisations.
After every speech there is a Waiata (reply)... On this occasion
songs by Te Kura O Waikare.
The children singing... An amazing tribute to Whaea Mona.
They came the minute they heard Whaea Mona had died... to protect
and watch over her. They all love her so wanted her to be buried
in Russell where they could continue to visit her.
She had been very instrumental a few years ago, when the
New Zealand government wanted to shut down some of the smaller
more isolated schools of which, what was then, Waikare School
was one. To stay open this school had to become a 'Special
Character School'. This was achieved by the school becoming
a Maori Bi-lingual School. They only speak and are taught in Maori
until year 7 and 8 when they are taught English reading and writing...
They speak English of course, but not at school.
On a momentous day the Waikare School closed and officially re-opened
as Te Kura O Waikare - look here -... Literally translated -
The School Of Waikare
On the right in this photo the former Pakeha school principal who is a
fluent speaker of Maori who worked with Whaea Mona on this issue...
The committal service ended with a Haka.
As I was leaving, one of the last, I looked back...
The school had all gathered in a circle round the still open grave
to throw flowers and say goodbye.