Posted by: alegra22 | July 31, 2010


A tangi, or Maori funeral, usually lasts for three days and takes place at the tribal meeting-house. Tangi means to cry or lament.The rituals during this time gather us to the past, the present, the future. They pull us down into grief. They lift us up again. They press us body against body, cheek against cheek, nose against nose, and then they release us to remember ourselves in that most basic act of living and communion: eating, making small conversation, chasing after the children. And then it begins again. We start to circle back around the grief, the rememberance, we dive down.

The karanga is the welcoming of visitors onto the marae. The marae is not the meeting house, the wharenui, but the sacred space surrounding the wharenui. The karanga takes place between two women, one who is already on the marae and the woman bringing guests onto the marae. What takes place is a type of calling out, a wailing song between the two women. I had it described to me once as a summoning, a way of turning our attention to our ancestors, to that space inside where we are all connected. Stepping onto the marae, surrounded by the song of the women, we step out of our individual selves into a relationship with those who have gone before us.  

The tangi began for me last night as I stood in the parking lot between Jon and Alziere’s home and the church, holding my friend Ange. I stood in my socks in the gravel hugging her and losing a sense of where I ended and she began. Her grief was a karanga that quieted everything else going on inside of me, it opened up a shared space between us that I moved into by standing still and breathing with her as she cried. Behind her, the shadows of children playing basketball in the dark pressed up against the church. They danced and leapt beneath the backlit cross on the side of the building. People called out to one another, adults herding children to the church, the rattle of silverware and the clank of dishes being put out for the tea we would share after the service. We were gathering to welcome Cezar Wairere home. It would be the first stage in the process of saying goodbye.I walked with Ange across that unnamed marae of gravel that stretched between home and church. It was my sacred space and I had been welcomed onto it by her mourning.

 In the last twenty four hours, I have passed through sacred space after sacred space and entered into the arms, or wharenui, of my friends and family. The meeting house becomes the embrace where my mother-in-law and I hold one another, crying, beneath the bright lights of the church.  It becomes the space where Alziere holds me when I turn away from Cezar’s body. Her arms become the protective walls that contain my tangi. 

It is past midnight as I write this. I keep stopping to rub at my eyes. My head hurts. The internet shuts down on me and I lose a draft. There are so many things in my mind, so many moments I want to put down so that I can crawl into my dreams and take flight, leave everything behind for a few hours.

Last night, Sol slept in my arms as they brought Cezar into the house.

Uncle Roger stood in front of the family. He spoke to Cezar, to that small, precious body.

 “Pouri  toku  ngakau,” he said. My heart is sad.

Tangi toku ngakau.”  My heart cries.

And my heart is angry.



  1. i keep typing things and then deleting them because nothing seems the right thing to say…
    my heart aches for you and your family and while I pray to God, I also talk to my mom and I asked her to find him and hold him in her arms….

  2. As well as it should be.

    Interesting tradition..fascinating really. Sorry I had to learn about it under the circumstances.

  3. This broke my heart.

  4. I still have no words…except that I”m grateful you are sharing this. And I have been thinking of you, of this sweet babe who has left this world, of this heartbreak…often.

  5. Beautiful piece. Heart breaking. Thank you for sharing this. What a tragedy…

  6. It is an unnatural order of things when children leave this earth before we do. We’ve had this grief, too, and all I can say is this child would want you to go on, be as happy as you can be, remember him in happiness not sadness.

    My thoughts are with you,

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