Death and Tradition: Waitangi Day

How the recent challenges faced by the Māori people have impacted their cultural traditions for farewelling loved ones.
Māori Waka Boat in Water

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Every year on 6 February people of New Zealand gather to commemorate the Māori people’s signing of the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown on 6 February 1840. In acknowledgement of this National Day, we look at recent challenges faced by the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand in farewelling their loved ones.

The ways people mourn and farewell their loved ones tells us an enormous amount about the history, spiritual beliefs and culture of a nation.

Case in point are the New Zealand Māori peoples to whom death is as much a part of the world as life and whose funeral ceremonies are guided by centuries of culture and tradition.

When someone dies, the Māori believe their Wairua, or soul, returns to Hawaiki, the ancient homeland, through the spirit journey.

Families and communities mourn, comfort and support each other during the funeral process and the Māori people are very focused on their ceremonies being about the things that made that person who they were.

They are occasions where free expressions of grief by men and women are encouraged and people speak frankly of the deceased person’s virtues and faults.

Quote "When someone dies, the Māori believe their Wairua, or soul, returns to Hawaiki, the ancient homeland, through the spirit journey."

However, according to AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, the ability for large families to gather at times of death and carry out the traditions of centuries past has been challenged in no small way by the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.

The 2021 study Digital Innovation and Funeral Practices: Māori and Samoan Perspectives During the COVID-19 Pandemic notes that the collective ways of mourning have been particularly affected, as social distance restrictions and travel bans means mourners have been unable to physically gather in large numbers.

But digital innovation such as live streaming of funerals has meant these groups have been able to remain socially connected, albeit at a physical distance.

To that end, OpusXenta’s cloud-based solutions help funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories to tailor their offerings to the individual needs of the families, communities, and cultures that they serve.

OpusXenta’s Lea-Ann McNeill, General Manager ANZ, says greater acceptance of the concept of digital funerals is allowing for people in other parts of New Zealand and the world to be a part of the farewells.

“Funerals continue to be a communal time of mourning, support and comfort thanks to the digital space.

“They are also providing digital records of the ceremonial aspects of the final farewells that will last forever.

“It’s an example of technology meeting tradition to preserve history without compromising the all-important cultural experience,” she said.

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