Tangihanga

Tangihanga, or more commonly, Tangi, is a traditional Māori funeral rite held on a marae. While still widely practised, it is not universally observed in modern times.

The series of events that surrounded my father’s tangi can only be described as Shortland Street on steroids.

In 2009 my father was diagnosed with cancer and moved in with his parents (my grandparents), on Christmas day of that year my house burned down leaving me to thank my dog for saving my life (it is also worth noting that my sister had previously died on a Christmas Day). I went to visit my father and grandparents after leaving the hospital on Christmas Day only to find I had been upstaged by my cousin who had to call the police to stop her husband from shooting her horses on their dairy farm, after she confronted him for cheating on her.

My grandparents had given my cousin several hundred thousand dollars as a deposit on a house for them to live in on the basis that once they died, she would get to keep the house. After the events of Christmas Day and them splitting up, they stopped paying mortgage payments on the house. It also turned out they didn’t use the money for the deposit on the house, and the mortgage was worth more than the actual house was post-GFC. As my father was in palliative care at their house, the bank very kindly postponed foreclosing on my grandparents and selling the house from under them until my father died, and these are only the events leading up till then. Imagine what an ensued after my grandmother wanted an Anglican church service, and my grandfather wanted a tangi!

A vast array of characters, also known as my family, and the odd smattering of people such as the undertaker that I used to work for when I was 16 feature in a story that seems only worthy of fiction – when two cultures collide and dealing with the and all the raw emotions attached.

While I was dealing with the funeral arrangements and being accused of stealing from my grandparents – among many other things. I used my photography to get me through and documented the beautiful moments. Moments like my very white nephews playing with their very Māori cousins and even managing a haka at the graveside. Or moments like my uncle, who was adopted from within the family, finding out in his 40s who his real parents were.

The story is being written as a book but has the potential to be made into a movie that I see being something like a mix between Death at a Funeral and Whale Rider. A dark comedy filled with drama while being balanced with the beauty of Tikanga Māori.

Photos from the Tangi, 2010