Regional | Tangi

Whānau forced to delay burials as urupa still under water

Māori families on the East Coast have delayed burying their dead because of cyclone damage to cemeteries and persistent rain that has left graves filled with water.

Gisborne’s main cemetery, Taruheru, has been closed for burials because of graves lying in water that are like pools of tears.

“We are seeing that some parts of the Tai Rāwhiti where the urupā, the kōiwi, have just drifted off into the sea and been taken away altogether,” former Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere says. “And it’s actually a really, really scary prospect I think for a lot of our whānau.”

Persistent rain has disrupted burials across the region for nearly six months. In Tolaga Bay, water at a local cemetery submerged one grave and water is threatening surrounding graves.

Labour MP Tamati Coffee says, “You know my nanny’s urupā is right next to the water at Tolaga Bay, right at the beach so I have been told some of the whānau tūpāpāku are under water, and that’s a concern.”

Water table still too high

Remains have been held in special facilities until burials can happen.

Kerekere also says, “After the last lot of rains my uncle Kahu Smiler died. And we couldn’t bury his body at our own urupa at our own marae because the water table was so high that you actually couldn’t dig into the earth.”

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi says, “They have waited too long for their deceased. Where are the correct procedures according to the law? The law has no bearing. Our customs should exceed the law, our customs should be above the law, in accordance with our own customs of our ancestors.”

The Gisborne District Council is accommodating cremations. Long-term options to future-proof services are also being considered.

Councilor Michele Frey says, “We really feel for the community especially with grieving families as they’ve lost loved ones. It is a traumatic time. We’ve done everything we can to enable communities to receive the services they need.”

Kerekere says managing the care of the dead is important for the living.

“We know that some of our whānau are making those hard decisions, really really tough decisions because it’s a natural process the way that we grieve. And to wait and to basically prolong delay the grieving is really really hard on our hinengaro as well as our mauri.”