When I first started this blog I was clear that I wanted to use it to discuss the media’s treatment of certain stories rather than focussing on the issues being discussed in the articles.
However yesterday morning I was reading the local news sites over my morning coffee when I came across this story. From a reporting point of view there is nothing wrong with the story itself, reporter Yvonne Tahana has done a fine job with balancing the different sides of the discussion.
However my problem with it is the actual issue and I felt compelled to write about it. So here are my thoughts, please indulge me.
I do not doubt Professor Paul Tapsell but when he talks about the demise of the roll of the marae in Maori communities I question whether his research basis was broad enough to make such sweeping comments.
While he is planning further research Professor Tapsell says in the article that he believes after monitoring death notices within his own iwi, Ngati Whakaue of Rotorua, over the past year that an increasing number of families are choosing to keep bodies at home.
He says he hopes it doesn't signal the demise of tribal marae as a Maori institution and remembers keeping bodies at home never happened when he was a boy.
“Any talk of it and kaumatua were down to the home in a "flash" with young people to help them carry the deceased to the marae.
“Now bodies don't make it back from Australia, let alone a couple of kilometres down the road, he said.
"Without the death ritual of tangihanga we're losing the real reason of why we have marae. It's about linking the dead with the living [and] with those yet to be born.”
But I think the view that marae are only used for tangi is missing the point. Marae have never just been for tangi. Marae were, and continue to be, used for birthdays, weddings, wananga, hui and a number of other events. In many communities the Marae is still the central hub and it will continue to remain that way as long as those who whakapapa to it can still identify with it.
I am pretty confident that my own marae will never die because there were many of us that were fortunate enough to grow up calling Wairaka home. As always there is a core lot of people who keep its heart beating, the ahi kaa burning, but the call home is always there for those of us who are no longer able to live there and we will continue to instil that same sense of turangawaewae in our own children.
Over the years the personnel who have kept that place ticking has changed, a trend that will continue to be so in the future but that is the point. Just like Professor Tapsell said the marae links us to the past and the also the future and so my boy will grow up knowing where his feet stand and one day, when he is ready, he will give back.
The problem for me is that the article makes no mention about the shift of Maori from their papakainga to the centres for work and the impact that this has had not only on the marae but on their children and grandchildren.
There are many Maori who no longer identify with their marae. Also other cultural influences are changing how people want to grieve for their loved ones. And while that is a personal choice I feel sorry for them because the aroha that exists in a marae is beyond beautiful and a marae will only die if the people let it.
If you haven’t been back to your marae lately I urge you not to wait until the next tangi, just do it.