National | Te Arawa

New Te Arawa natural burial site opens

The Northcroft/Moke/Waaka whānau from Tuhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao are now ready to launch its urupā tataiao (natural burial sites) on ancestral lands in Horohoro.

Researcher Lynette Walmsley said the main reasons for this initiative were to care for the land and environment, and to return Māori to their traditional methods of caring for those died,  leaving behind westernised practices.

It has been a 15-year-long journey for these descendants of Rakera and finally their natural burial site is finally completed.

“If you look at the cemetery in Te Arawa, they are filling up. Our family has land, so let’s use that," Mackenzie Moke of Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao and Te Mahurihuri said.

Some five hectares of the 54-ha Haparangi A2 land in Horohoro 15 minutes west of Rotorua have been set aside for a natural burial cemetery.

Walmsley said natural burial was a shallow burial only a meter deep as compared to the western "six feet under".

Removing the cost

“It is also not being embalmed. Our waka (coffin) is made of organic matter. A shallow burial means we are able to decompose faster and are able to leave our whenua in a better state by planting a tree beside or above. We do not have monuments as such."

Māori medicines, leaves and oils will be used instead of embalming toxins put into the body. She noted that funerals can cost $5000-10,000 depending on how big the occasion is and how many attend, feeding and accommodating whānau on the marae. The coffin alone can be $3500 and upwards in costs.

She says the natural burial is at the price the whānau choose it to be.

Pania Roa is teaching the art of weaving kōpaki to many tribes. Her goal is to revive this traditional art among the Māori people.

Return to tradition

This wāhine from Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Kahungunu, and Ngāti Porou said, “In 1918 the Spanish flu came to this country. It was the Crown’s idea to bury people ‘six feet under’ hoping to bury the sickness. It also said to bury people in caskets.”

These women are also looking at other traditional aspects of burial that may be taboo to people today.

“Here especially in Te Whakarewarewa Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao there was a pool that was used for washing the bodies and we are looking to reclaim that knowledge and those skills,” Walmsley said.

Moke said: “Don’t be afraid, if you look at that tree and see skeletons of ancestors hanging, don’t be afraid, it is beautiful, it is love.”

The natural burial site is ready for whānau now on Heparangi A2 block. The whānau are encouraging the motu to look into taking loved ones back to their whenua and returning to tikanga of old and away from westernised introduced embalming, coffins and cemeteries owned by councils.