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Photo: Nadine Anne Hura
Photo: Nadine Anne Hura

ĀteaAugust 29, 2021

All things in life are uncertain, except for this

Photo: Nadine Anne Hura
Photo: Nadine Anne Hura

This thing, tangihanga, it’s ours, writes Nadine Anne Hura. But a virus has interfered with the flow of this ancient river. 

Ko te matao o te hau

Ko te anu o te kiri

Ko te maringitanga a Roimata

Ko te hekenga a hupe

Anei ngā tohu o te mate

Auē, tuakiri e*

The first thing that happens is that people come. Or you get the call and you go. It’s not a question of if, but how quickly you can get there. Flights booked. Meetings cancelled. Money found. Washing left drying on the line. 

So many things in life are uncertain, except for this one, ancient, guaranteed thing: people will come. You get the call, you will go. 

It is a call from the source. It is the path of remembering. It is the way we return. Brothers who haven’t spoken in decades will stand in brightly lit corridors and look each other in the eye and know it’s done. Kua oti. Kua ea. 

Rongo always defeats Tū in the end. 

Decisions are made the way a river flows; not always easily, but purposefully. The direction is determined by tikanga. Sometimes tikanga is taught, other times it is inherent. Some of us need to be shown, others have to listen deeply and make our best guess with what we have. 

Time expands in all directions. The spirits gather under one roof. The veil becomes thin enough to see right through. The source can be touched with only the timbre of voice. 

Smiling photos of those already gone surround the tūpāpaku. They’re waiting. Always waiting. They don’t admonish us for crying; no. They encourage us, they tell us to weep with all and everything we have.

They say: Let your hupe flow to keep this body warm. 

This brother. 

This woman. 

This mother. 

This great love of your lives. 

This giant Tōtara who has fallen in the forest of Tāne.

Auē, auē, auē…

There will be a hākari. The boxes will start arriving before the sun. The men will go to sea. Women too. The table will begin to fill. The jug is perpetually boiling, plates of biscuits constantly replenished. 

Photo: Nadine Anne Hura

Someone is in charge of everything – that someone might be you one day, so pay attention. 

Set up the garage; put a tarpaulin on the lawn. Find out what is needed and bring it. Get extra pots and plates. Make sure there’s power to the cookers and the heaters. You’ll need extra seats, mattresses, blankets, a couch for the old people. Move the furniture. Line up the shoes. Wharepaku gets cleaned twice a day. There must be order, but comfort. Most importantly, make sure the whānau pani drink, wash and rest. The days will be long and the nights longer. We will travel as one. 

On the last night, the songs will gather volume. People you haven’t seen for years will show their faces. Noses press. Koha takes the form of oratory. Big yarns and wild memories. The stories flow and flow. The moon ducks low to listen. The whare expands and gets hot. Kids sleep. Ancestors breathe. It is freezing outside, blowing a gale, but inside the ribs there is shelter and warmth. Laughter shakes the roof.

And you’ll wonder, how is it possible to laugh so hard inside the belly of grief? 

This thing, tangihanga, it’s ours. It is for the living. No one can negotiate with Hinenuitepō, but we can weep together at her feet. We can laugh. We can remember. We can and we must. It’s how we begin healing, and as much as possible, that process must not be delayed.

But a virus has interfered with the flow of this ancient river, so that now, a mother cannot leave quarantine to dress her son, to hold his hand, to make sure he is set for his journey.

Aunty is taken directly from the morgue to the cemetery, alone, except for one person and the undertaker. 

Koro is cremated and his ashes delivered in a box, because when the music stopped his children were stuck exactly where they were, and no one could make the 600km journey with him home to the urupā where his tūpuna lie. 

Photo: Nadine Anne Hura

All over the country and the world, we tangi by Zoom. We cannot go. The call comes and we can do nothing but stand at our window and watch the washing snap on the line, feeling the weight of our unmet responsibility bearing down. 

Car keys hang on the hook in the hall. Empty mattresses wait in the lounge. No pots needed because there are no extra mouths. The jug sits cold. 

Our wharenui bend to the wind to listen for our footfall but there is no movement in the valley, not a whisper. 

Decisions have to be made. Impossible decisions. Alone decisions. Decisions that divert tikanga in ways we have never known in our lifetime. The river is flowing in an unfamiliar direction. The unknown looms. 

Photo: Nadine Anne Hura

We thought some things were certain, but perhaps the only thing in life that is guaranteed is tikanga. 

Tikanga as guide. Tikanga as protection. Tikanga as sacrifice. 

So long as the river keeps flowing, tikanga determines the way. Just as our ancestors before us listened, we listen. They too faced the unknown. They too made decisions that felt foreign and wrong. They adapted as the river forged its path through new and harsh landscapes. 

We hold on to all we can from the past, but we observe the tohu of here-and-now and do what we must. Tikanga protects the whole body, especially the most vulnerable parts. And so we change and we adapt. It is painful; so painful. The loss has intensified beyond-beyond. But we find new ways to traverse time and space and still travel as one. We shape-shift. We return to karakia. We press our noses to the glass. We thread our tangi on the wind to carry us there.  

Auē, auē, auē…

*These kupu mihi were shared with the author by her whanaunga Darren Nathan (nō Te Rarawa/Muriwhenua) and reflect the kind of mihimihi commonly heard on the paepae, or shared with whānau pani (grieving family members) during a time of loss. 


Frozen breath

Cold skin

The outpouring of tears

The flowing of mucus

Here are the signs of grief

Alas, how we mourn.

Keep going!