'Huirangi would have supported' - Tikanga tangihanga explained

By Jessica Tyson

The difficult decision to lay reo Māori stalwart, Dr Huirangi Eruera Waikerepuru to rest yesterday, was one that Dr Waikerepuru would have supported says Taranaki reo exponent, Dr Ruakere Hond.

“If we look at this from a perspective that Huirangi would have looked at, he was a very much a solutions-focused person," explains Dr Hond.

“He was always saying ‘Yes we have these difficulties but there are ways around this’ and I think the whānau approached very much how Huirangi would have done this.”   

Waikerepuru is remembered as a driving force behind the revitalisation of te reo and the establishment of Māori Television, Iwi Radio and Te Māngai Pāho.

Normally his passing would have drawn thousands from around the motu but instead, the whānau needed to adhere with strict COVID-19 tangihanga protocols.

Current restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 lockdown limits people from crossing from one region to another.

The whānau reached out to Police and other authorities immediately to allow Dr Waikerepuru to return to his tūrangawaewae, Taiporohenui Marae.

Another restriction under the COVID-lockdown regulations is that only 10 people at once are allowed to attend services. This was another caution taken seriously by the whānau.

Understanding tikanga

Hond says the burial yesterday was an opportunity to help people understand what tikanga is.

“Tikanga isn’t something that’s always set in stone and in place. Tikanga is something that considers all the circumstances, so what is best for all the people involved and what is best for the people in the wider society who may learn, may understand from what is taking place here.

“I believe Huirangi would be looking at this and saying ‘Āe koinei, me wero te tikanga, ana kia puta tēnei mea te ora ki runga i te iwi’ and I think the whānau found that solution.”

Hond says the whānau pani took some time to decide what to do with the tūpāpaku.

“They spent the first night after Huirangi passed sitting down and talking together, and finding solutions to the huge difficulties they were faced with - how do they bring their loved one, their pou to come back to his marae.”

There was an option to put the tūpāpaku aside until an appropriate time, but that was not what the whānau wanted.

"It’s a very difficult thing for people to do is to put their tūpāpaku to one side and wait until an appropriate time comes," says Hond.

Another option was to cremate.

“But again there are difficulties round that in terms of the amount of time it would have taken to complete the cremation process.”

In the end, the whānau pani decided it would be far better for Huirangi to return as he is with the urupā amongst his people and amongst his tūpuna.

“I think they made the best decision with what was available to them and within Taranaki, we all gave our support to that decision.”

Dr Waikerepuru was also known as an eloquent educator and mentor to many people.

Hond admits it was even difficult for him to stay home knowing Waikerepuru was going to be arriving.

“My first reaction was to get in my car and drive down there.  But I felt this is a time to show leadership for all of us, to say we need to demonstrate, role model, appropriate well-being practice of health around these things and find [a] solution.”

Māori Television will play out a special tribute for Dr Huirangi Eruera Waikerepuru, available on all platforms later today.