Tangihanga - a dying tradition

As a child, I remember seeing our mother dressed entirely in black, wearing a hat, veil and sombre expression. I asked where she was going.

“A funeral,” she said.

“Can I come?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “Kids don’t go to funerals.”

Granddad lived in Christchurch. We lived in Invercargill. He may as well have lived on another planet, geographically and culturally. Mum, a Pakeha, told us about the first tangi she ever went to. Dad’s whānau hosted relatives at home in Rotorua.

“People were everywhere, sleeping on the floor and constantly eating,” she recalled. “We seemed to be forever washing dishes.”

Mum is now so used to tangi that she finds funerals strange.

“How odd,” she’ll whisper, if there’s no singing or speeches at the graveside.