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Ko te putaketanga mai o aitua i timata mai no mai rano no te atua mai.

Mai i Io ki te wehenga o te pō, o te ao, o Ranginui raua ko Papatuanuku.

Heke iho ki a Hineahuone, ki a Hinetitama, ko ia hoki a Hinenuitepo te tatau ki te ao wairua.

Tenei tikanga a aitua i taka mai a Hinenuitepo ki te ira tangata.

Ko nga momo mate i aua wa, he mate taka i te rakau, he mate taka i te paru, he mate  toremi i te wai, he mate wera i te ahi, he mate pakanga, he mate makutu, he mate tarawhare.

Karekau koe i te moho i te wa, i te ra, me te ahuatanga o to mate kei roto i nga ringaringa o te atua.

Mahia te mahi i te wa e ora ana koe na te mea he wa poto to te tāngata ki tenei ao. 

 The origins of death have been with us since the beginning of time. It began with the creation of the world from the supreme being Io. Through the eons of darkness, to the emergence of light. From the universe above us, to the Mother earth. To the creation of the first human known as Hineahuone, who begat Hinetitama who was known also as Hinenuitepo the goddess of death. She is the doorway to the spiritual afterlife.  In pre-european times the origins of death were recognised as , falling from a tree, falling from a cliff, drowning, being burnt from a fire, dying in battle, being spiritually bewitched and natural causes of death including old age.

This website provides an opportunity to prepare for death , funerals leading up to the returning of the dead to burial or cremation. We don't know the time of our death, we don't know the day or the circumstances of our departure from this world. That belief is in the hands of the supreme being and the philosophy of life. While we live it is a blessing, we must live our lives in accordance with our truth because our physical life in this world is limited. This website will give you an opportunity to understand the role of Nga Pou Herenga and your family in the time of death which is a  very vulnerable time for you throughout tangihanga. 

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Pou Herenga: funeral guide training

Iramoko Marae,

Eastern Bay of Plenty   Nov 2021

Iwi and hapū are revitalising their kaupapa around death and dying and after-death practices. Maata Wharehoka of Parihaka is one of those who have led the way. She says "We need to examine the influence of Pākehā on our processes, and open our minds up completely to things Māori.

Together with Ngamaru Raerino, she has participated in a series of six webinairs, facilitated by Terri Cassidy. These cover their learnings over 13 years of mahi in this area.  They are available on the site Te Oro Tapu,  an online platform designed to build a vibrant community for Māori to share whakaaro and kōrero with one another, to take the time to reflect and to grow the puna mātauranga or wellspring of knowledge in the wairua space.

The Te Teko community share ways to weave whāriki and make puhirere (plinths) and taupoki to use instead of coffins.  October 2020
Puhirere and Taupoki

In Te Teko,  where weavers make whariki in which to wrap the tūpāpaku, Toby Salmon has built many puhirere (plinths) to use instead of coffins. The taupoki then covers the tūpāpaku at time of burial.  The whanau decorate it with ferns and flowers


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At a workshop in Te Teko, Toby Salmon taught the art of making puhirere and taupoki from a single sheet of plywood. 

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Decorating the taupoki.

Moemai Pads: Cold Plates

Moetatua Turoa, Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, and his friend Paul Madigan were concerned about the unaffordable charges of funeral services. Taking a tūpāpaku the hundreds of kilometres from the East Coast to Whakatāne for embalming added even more to the already prohibitive  cost of tangihanga. Their concern brought them to import a Cold Plate from Holland, bringing new technology that will slow the decomposition of a tūpāpaku as effectively as embalming.

They renamed this a Moemai Pad.  As well as a reduction in costs, the other key benefit of forgoing embalming and using a Moemai Pad is that the tūpāpaku is not taken away by strangers and filled with toxic chemicals.  Instead the loved one stays with whānau throughout from death to burial.  

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The Moemai Pad goes underneath the coffin and the freezer unit is plugged into a wall socket. A grant from Trust Horizon enabled us to import five from Holland.

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Hapū and communities are acting to find ways to better take care of their own after-death. Here Te Rūnanga o Te Whānau meet in Te Kaha to discuss options for tangihanga in October 2020.

This was followed by a hui  at Pahaoa Marae on Saturday 29 April 2023.

The significance of the term:

Ngā Pou Herenga.   

(as explained by Pouroto Ngaropō)


Ngā Pou- refers to many pillars of strength, like a pou whakairo, their strength, their courage. Pou are a way where iwi, hapū are able to tell their tribal cultural narratives but are also seen as an  embodiment of these ancestors. That is why a name like Ngā Pou summarises our guides' characteristics and role as very special, important and of great value. 


Herenga means to bound, tie or connect which as ngā pou herenga, their job is to connect that of the person deceased who has departed from the Kauwae raro (physical world) to the Kauwae runga) ascent to the spiritual upper most heavens or spiritual realms. 


The term Ngā Pou Herenga is very appropriate for the guides as their role is to take care of the departed, to prepare the person as they transition to the next journey of their life.  Our guides are noted as people with this type of strength and mana,  strong and agile, sharing compassion and aroha to the whanau in times of need. Our guides need to be  people of this stamina, in our line of mahi.

Natural burial in urupā

Along with new options for hapū to dispense with embalming and coffins, one has also opted for also changing the nature of graves to avoid pollution of the soils.


An environmentally friendly option is to have a natural burial. The tūpāpaku must not be embalmed because of the toxic chemicals is buried in natural materials (harakeke, cotton, wood) at a depth of just less than a metre.  At this depth the natural processes in the soil quickly breakdown matter.  A native tree is then planted on each grave. It is now possible to have  a website to show whānau video and stories of the tīpuna buried in an urupā.


In Rotorua the first natural burial site on Māori land has recently been set aside by Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao.

Embalming 'waste'

There is increasing concern by some iwi about mortuary waste. This is made up of arterial blood and chemicals that mostly arise through the embalming process. On average, about one cubic metre of water (1000 litres) is required to put one body through the process.

Turanganui-a-Kiwa, tangata whenua in Gisborne, believe it is culturally offensive for mortuary waste to be discharged into the sea so the local Council has passed a by law that will ensure funeral directors contain the waste. It will then be trucked to the cemetery site and returned to Papatūānuku. Here is a Radio NZ article about this change. 

Story telling and research on death and dying in Māori communities

DR TESS MOEKE-MAXWELL NGĀI TAI, NGĀTI POROU has dedicated her life to helping Māori, especially through the end of life research she does with Māori whānau. This is a sacred time when the spirit prepares to transition to the heavenly realm. Whānau, as caregivers, have an important role in caring for their dying, and helping the dying person’s wairua to transition ‘well’.

She believes that end of life and dying are important opportunities for us to release the past, forgive, be forgiven, and to love without conditions. Writing and speaking about these things from the perspectives of whānau are the greatest enjoyments of her academic career.

One of her research papers is entitled Creating ‘safe spaces’: A qualitative study to explore enablers and barriers to culturally safe end-of-life care. It can be found here.   There are also a number of short videos,digital story telling, that support the reclamation and retention of indigenous end-of-life care customs for Māori that you can access here.

Proposed new legislation that will affect tangihanga has had very little input from iwi and hapū.
Do you want to add your voice to proposed government changes to legislation? 
Then go to our changing legislation page
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