The building is coming up a hundred years old and in much the same shape as it started out I imagine. I was pleased to see even the curtains retained that look from a time long before fast cars, iPads and ceiling fans. Chairs in the middle and mattresses up each side, people made themselves comfortable.
I nodded off into a lovely dream like state while the chanting and singing rose and fell around me interspersed with the sometimes long mihis from the important ones up the front. Uncle lay in his open casket as those around him were telling stories and singing his praises, though in a language I don’t have, so apart from recognising the odd word, I was oblivious, which made it easier to slip into a restful state as many others did. It was hot and stuffy in there and I was thankful for the cross breeze that occasionally rippled over my back. I’m sure those up further wished for ceiling fans.
That was until, with my eyes still closed, Josie nudged me on my left and asked where Tara was. I turned to confirm she was still gone. I’d felt her slip out behind me rather than saw her go and was pretty sure Josie knew this. “Outside, I said a little confused. With baby.”
“Is she coming back?” Josie asked with some urgency. This didn’t make sense. I couldn’t quite fathom why she was insistent on Taras return. Maybe I was disorientated after nodding off. “Why?” I asked confused. “Because Charlie might get up and speak and we’ll have to get up and waiata, she whispered. Sing.” Holy Mary, Jesus and Joseph. I looked at her and while barely properly awake I registered the horror of getting up to sing in a language, I’ll remind you I don’t have, in front of a hundred or more made me feel a little ill just quietly. “I’ll get her”, I said as I quietly stood and slipped outside. The cool air was so refreshing. I looked around and couldn’t see Tara and was wondering what to do when I heard someone call and thank goodness there were the three girls, Tara with Kerry and Jasmine. I scooped up Leilani on my way and as she snuggled into my neck into her usual koala position I explained to the girls the predicament and that they were expected. They immediately ran through options they could sing, stood up and headed in. Ahh I love this generation. They still do what they’re told!
“Good girls!” I smiled to myself as I walked down past buildings and remembered stories of this beautiful and very special Marae as little Leilani began to sing herself to sleep.
This was part of Gilbert’s Uncle’s Tangi and as the family bid him farewell in the way of his ancestors, I was merely an observer. Its a beautiful culture and I was taken back to when I was only about 18 old and had never experienced a Marae or Maoritanga this close up. Gilbert’s grandmother had passed away and there she lay in an open casket for her whanau to see her and remember her every feature. To stroke her hand or face. To tell stories and to remember. To grieve openly and share that grief where you were safe and supported. I thought back to my GrandFather’s funeral. Death in my family mean’t the body was taken at the earliest opportunity, prepared and returned to the church just before the service and burial. This was so different it was hard to comprehend but what I did know was, this Maori way felt so much better.
Before long we were saying goodbye to my Dad. He died in a car accident at just 49 years old when I was still only 19. He had only a short few months before walked me to my new husband at our wedding and it was too much to bear seeing him in the funeral home dressed and ready for the lid to go on. We never had him at home, no time to share and feel supported. Loud or even open crying was discouraged and seen as a weakness. Cups of tea for visitors kept us busy as we sat around awkwardly trying to find conversation about anything, but the reason we were there for. Mum was devastated. I had no idea what I could do to help her. Then life was expected to return to normal after the burial….that’s the Pakeha way.
Whanau soon spill from inside the hall, breaking my reverie, fanning themselves and gulping the fresh air while slipping shoes on to make their way to the Whare Kai.
Leilani has slept soundly in my arms. Uncle will be transferred to his Papakaainga for his final resting place as were his wishes, and his Whanau will travel with him to see him settled there. It is a beautiful way to say goodbye. He will rest with Whanau, his own people rather than in a cemetery amongst strangers and I love that.