Re: News spoke to Tipene Funerals’ director and star of The Casketeers Francis Tipene (Te Rarawa) about what makes Māori tangihanga special.

If you are non-Māori and you attend a tangihanga, what are the practices or protocols that you should follow? 

Whether a tangi (short for tangihanga) is held at home or on the marae, they generally run the same. 

You'll get a feel for the tikanga, or protocol which you'll need to adhere to. If it's held at home it’ll be a little bit more relaxed, whereas if it’s held on a marae it’s a bit more formal.

Generally, the thing to do is take flowers. In instances with Māori whānau, we encourage people to take a little envelope or a koha of some putea, some money to give to the whānau.

Back in the day, we took food and kūmara and some of us would’ve given beef or pork, but if you're going onto the marae it's not the right thing to do, you let the whānau take care of kai and you provide a small koha maybe with a little note. Lots of people are doing that now, sending personal thoughts and sympathies to the whānau.

Another protocol is when you're there, like you're in Rome, do as the Romans do. 

When you get to the door and you see all the shoes, follow them: take your shoes off as well and generally someone will be there to guide you through that process.

Black is the general dress code but people go dressed in all sorts of colours now and I think that's not the most important thing. 

I think more important is what you're wearing and making sure it’s modest.

We want to remember we're not going to the nightclub, and men, generally you want to encourage them to wear trousers. It's like you're going to church or karakia. You dress appropriately, but these days, people come in gumboots and hoodies and that's just the way it is. 

I think people will be pleased with you attending physically to the tangihanga, but try and keep modest.

What are the no-no behaviours, things that if you do will offend?

I would say it's like any funeral, really - common sense. Then again some people don't know what common sense is. 

So, for example, if your phone was on vibrate and rung, I would not answer it - again this is a common respect and courtesy thing. 

Don't have yarns with your friends while you're in there. Unless of course, one of the kaikorero (speakers) cracks a joke then everyone sort of has a yarn and laughs.

It's pretty easy, you follow everyone else, whatever everyone else is doing. That's basically what I say to families when they go onto a marae.

How many days does a tangihanga go for, and are there different practices on the different days?

A tangi usually goes on for three, four days, sometimes five. And it's all dependent on the arrival of different whānau as well as coming from overseas. So we generally hold them a little bit longer. 

Three days is generally the time that you'll hold your loved ones for on marae or at home. 

I would say the first two days are generally the days where they welcome the manuhiri (guests) to come and pay their respects. 

On the last evening before the funeral service, the burial or cremation, that's when they have the pō whakamutunga (last night) or pō whakangahau (celebrations or concert) where they will spend time sharing stories as an internal whānau. 

They usually cut off the pōwhiri to manuhiri (welcome to guests) at a certain time, so that this process and this procedure of the tokotoko (the passing around of the talking stick) can go ahead.

Are they religious?

Religion comes into it through the religious beliefs of the tūpāpaku  (deceased person). If the person was, you know, a highly regarded person in the Catholic Church, then it would be religious.

If the person was a gang member, then it's not generally religious.

If the person is an atheist, which I'm seeing more of now, then we don't generally do religion. 

But on marae, whether you're religious or not, they will generally have a karakia at the beginning and the end. That is something that you have to adhere to if you're gonna go on to the marae especially if you're not religious. 

I think for any Māori to go on to a marae and not start with karakia is sort of unusual, and not right. 

For someone who's non-Māori to attend a Māori tangihanga, I think it's a real eye-opener.

What makes Māori tangihanga special/different to others?

The beautiful thing especially about Māori tangi is that when a lot of people find out we sleep with our tūpāpaku (deceased) on the marae for three to four days, some people find it morbid. Some people find it weird. 

That's kei te pai (okay) because that's not their culture. This is our culture. It allows us to … let our tears come to an end.

Hei te mutunga o te hui mate (when the funeral has finished), we don't need grief counselling because why? Because we've let it all out on the marae. We have cried, we have laughed, and in some instances, we have sworn. It has been let out publicly. We do it together with your whānau surrounding you in a safe space.

Why do we have tangihanga at our marae?

The marae is your tūrangawaewae, it is the place where you connect to, usually not far from your maunga and your awa.

And so in that instance, that is the place where you want to lay your tūpāpaku (deceased). I think the word tūrangawaewae is important there because that's where you go, hoki atu ki to ūkaipō, to your home. The marae is a place for that, gathering people under the roof of the wharenui of our ancestors.

More stories:

Bringing whānau home: The family making repatriation from Australia possible

“This is our birthright, Tangihanga is a birthright for Māori."

Three sisters receive moko kauae by traditional uhi method

"This is huge for us. We’ve long been in discussions about this, about today."

Why ballroom is important to queer people of colour in Wellington

“We’ve found a way to tell the world all the different ways life can look like for a queer POC."