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Tangihanga, or more commonly, tangi, is a traditional Māori funeral rite held on a marae.[1] While still widely practised, it is not universally observed in modern times.[2]

Each iwi (tribe/nation) differs on how they honour those who pass. Tangihanga generally take three days with burial on the third day. From the moment of death, the tūpāpaku (body of the deceased) is rarely alone.[3] The tūpāpaku is transported (usually from a hospital and via a funeral home) to the marae. There they are welcomed with a pōwhiri and will lie in state for at least two nights, usually in an open coffin, in the wharenui.

Kawakawa leaves.

Throughout the tangihanga, the tūpāpaku is flanked by the whānau pani (the bereaved family)[4] (sometimes called the kirimate or mourners),[5] who take few and short breaks, dress in black, and sometimes wreath their heads in kawakawa leaves. Around the coffin, flowers and photographs of deceased relatives are placed.

Tangihanga, Rotorua NZ, Ngati Tuhourangi / Te Arawa (1905)

Visitors come during the day, sometimes from great distances despite only a distant relationship, to address the deceased. They may speak frankly of his or her faults as well as virtues, but singing and joking are also appropriate. Free expression of grief by both men and women is encouraged. Traditional beliefs may be invoked, and the deceased is told to return to the ancestral homeland, Hawaiki, by way of te rerenga wairua, the spirits' journey. The close kin may not speak. It is traditional for mourners to wash their hands in water and sprinkle some on their heads before leaving the area where the tūpāpaku lies in state. Traditionally, the visitors would bring famous taonga (treasures), such as kākā and kiwi feather-cloaks and pounamu mere, which would be placed alongside the tūpāpaku. These items were inherited by the heirs of the deceased, who were then expected to return them to the original owners at subsequent tangihanga. This practice was called kōpaki.[6]

On the last night, the pō whakamutunga (night of ending), the mourners hold a vigil and at a time assigned by custom (sometimes midnight, sometimes sunrise) the coffin is closed, before a church or marae funeral service and/or graveside interment ceremony, invariably Christian in modern times. As with the area the tūpāpaku lies, it is traditional for mourners to wash their hands in water and sprinkle some on their heads before leaving the cemetery. After the burial rites are completed, a hākari (feast) is traditionally served. Mourners are expected to provide koha or gifts towards the meal. After the burial, the home of the deceased and the place where the deceased died are ritually cleansed with karakia (prayers or incantations) and desanctified with food and drink, in a ceremony called takahi whare, trampling the house. That night, the pō whakangahau (night of entertainment) is a night of relaxation and rest. The widow or widower is not left alone for several nights following.

Both in traditional times and modern, the tangi of high-profile individuals can be both extended and elaborate.[7][8]

A 2011 court case ruled that funeral traditions do not over-rule common law.[9]


  1. ^ "Tangihanga - Korero Maori". Korero.maori.nz. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  2. ^ "Demise of tangi a threat to culture - professor - Maori - NZ Herald News". Nzherald.co.nz. 2012-06-09. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  3. ^ "Tangihanga - Korero Maori". Korero.maori.nz. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  4. ^ "pani". Archived from the original on April 25, 2012. Retrieved November 22, 2011.
  5. ^ "kirimate". Archived from the original on April 25, 2012. Retrieved November 22, 2011.
  6. ^ Grace, John Te Herekiekie (1959). Tuwharetoa: The history of the Maori people of the Taupo District. Auckland [N.Z.]: A.H. & A.W. Reed. p. 292. ASIN B0007JE64K. ISBN 9780589003739.
  7. ^ "Papers Past—Auckland Star, 22 September 1894. p. 2". Paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  8. ^ "Sir Howard laid to rest Tuesday". Stuff.co.nz. 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  9. ^ Mike Watson (2011-11-23). "Bodysnatching decision: Law before Maori custom". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 2013-12-03.