The term tangi or tangihanga describes a Maori approach to the process of grieving for someone who has died. Practices and protocols can differ from tribe to tribe. However, it is a common process that enables people to express their sense of loss, not only for their loved one, but for those who have passed before them.
Traditionally, tangihanga were held at marae. Nowadays, tangihanga are also held at private residences and funeral parlours. Tangihanga usually take place over a number of days, beginning when the person passes away and continuing after the burial, until the rituals and ceremonies of grieving are complete.
Before the burial, it is common for the coffin to be left open so mourners can touch, kiss, hug and cry over the tupapaku (corpse) to express their grief.
A common belief is that the tupapaku should never be left alone after death, so close family members (the whanau pani) stay with the tupapaku throughout the tangihanga, supported by older female relatives.
People often travel long distances to attend tangihanga to show their respect for the person who has died and to offer support to the family. It is also common practice to offer a koha, usually money, to the marae or family.
If the tangihanga is at a marae, those who attend are welcomed with powhiri during which speeches are made as if talking directly to the tupapaku. This fits with the common belief that the spirit remains with the body until the time of the burial.
If the tupapaku has links to a number of tribes or sub tribes, debate may arise between relatives over where the tupapaku is to be buried. While talks can be heated and stressful, such debate is a sign of love and respect for the tupapaku.
Find out about other important protocols:
- Greetings: How you say hello and introduce yourself
- Powhiri: The formal marae welcoming ceremony
- Karanga: The call inviting strangers to enter the marae
- Whaikorero: The art of Maori oratory
- Mihimihi: Less formal introduction given by individuals
- Marae visits: A guide on what to do on the Marae