Māori Article of the Week: The Impacts of Contemporary Embalming Practices on Tikanga Māori by Byron Rangiwai

When Māui, in the form of a mokomoko, attempted to enter the sacred portal of Hinenuitepō, the goddess of death, in an attempt to achieve immortality, but was instead fatally crushed by her thighs, we are reminded forever that death is invariably part of life. When a Māori person dies, more often than not, a tangihanga at a marae ensues. In preparation for the tangihanga,  Māori have become accustomed to taking their dead to a funeral home to be embalmed. Embalming is a chemical process whereby the corpse is sanitised and preserved which allows the whānau to proceed with the tangihanga, while maintaining a dignified image of the deceased. However, traditional Māori death customs were very different. The tūpāpaku was positioned seated, with knees drawn up to the chest, the arms embracing the legs, head facing forward. The corpse was addressed as though still alive and the ceremonial speakers stood to speak and face the decedent directly (this is of course still the case today, though the body is reclined).

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