Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Maori Queen funeral

Dame Te Ata safely home atop the sacred mountain

By SUSAN PEPPERELL, DENISE IRVINE, LESTER THORLEY and YVONNE TAHANA

In the safe hands of her people The Lady is at rest.

Stuff NZ 22 August 2006

Today, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu lies among her ancestors on the top of Taupiri Kuao – her journey from girlhood at Huntly's Waahi Marae to leader of the 150-year-old Kingitanga movement now over.
Yesterday her loving people took her to Taupiri one last time, but only after a fond and emotional farewell at Turangawaewae.
Although many mourners were up all night, the day proper begins with the tolling of four bells and a church service.
Before the funeral begins, the new King, Dame Te Ata's eldest son, Tuheitia Paki, is installed in the richly carved throne placed beside his mother's casket. Tuheitia's son, 16-year-old Whatumoana, stands beside him as Tuheitia stood beside his mother at her crowning 40 years ago.
"Hei Kingi," calls Maniapoto kaumatua Tui Adams to the crowd three times.
Each time they reply: "Ae".
It is done.
King Tuheitia is crowned with the historic bible used at past Kingitanga coronations, then the new Kingitanga leader sits with bowed head beside his mother's casket during the funeral service.
Among the speakers is Archdeacon Ngarahu Katene, who describes Dame Te Ata as an extraordinary person, "whose romance with life is whimsical and rare".
He says people like her are "life's magic; their magic has shaped our lives".
Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe remembers back 40 years to Dame Te Ata's coronation, and a time when "we thought the world had come to an end in Maoridom, when we had the temerity to elect a woman (as Queen)".
Archbishop Vercoe praises the way Dame Te Ata has moved among her people, sustaining them with her presence. There are murmurs of agreement for both speakers, then more whispers as messages of sympathy from Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and the Pope are read.
Sir Howard Morrison stands at the microphone. Goodbye My Sweetheart he sings as he struggles to keep going.
In a moment that engenders laughter among the crowd, one of three doves released "because ma'am loved her doves", refuses to fly away. It lingers and looks, as bemused by the situation as those charged with letting it go. Eventually it plucks up courage, flaps its wings and soars skyward. The crowd sighs with relief.
Then there is a message for the new king: "Be strong and follow in the footsteps of your mother."
The coffin is closed and there is one last benediction.
"It is time to leave your Turangawaewae. The people are gathered here from the motu to farewell you.
"Go to your God."
A path is cleared to the gate, keening voices fill the air and Dame Te Ata's casket – carried shoulder high – leaves. A huge contingent of family, friends and official visitors follow her to the hearse.
The workers remain behind to remove the greenery that has adorned the front of Mahinarangi and the marae forecourt for the past few days.
Outside, crying kuia walk single file to find their bus to take them to Taupiri as the Ratana band readies to lead the hearse to the river's edge.
The procession is led by a young man in a blue blazer and black bow tie, his face a mix of intense concentration and nerves.
But his pacing is impeccable as the muted music of the band carries to the thousands of people already lining the river banks.
A final haka is performed on the green lawns of Turangawaewae, and there are many willing hands to take the casket to the waka Tumanako bedecked in all its finery, a canopy of woven flax at its centre.
Out on the river the skill of the paddlers takes over. They manoeuvre their way downstream accompanied by three other waka whose occupants chant to maintain the rhythm of the paddling.
All along the river are people watching history pass them by.
Meanwhile, at Taupiri the last wisps of the morning fog linger at its summit. Crowds stream from buses and walk the final stretch along SH1.
The mountain is already a sea of black-clad mourners, as thousands wait for their arikinui.
Kuia form an honour guard from the road to the cemetery. They practise their movements that will call on the mourners.
"Remember you're going left to right, not up and down."
"Look at your mate next to you to get it right."
The waka Tumanako lands, the casket is handed to a group of warriors and the paddlers walk silently past the crowds.
The Taniwharau and Turangawaewae rugby league players who will haul the casket to the top of Taupiri Kuao get some last-minute coaching. They are to walk at the pace of the slowest kuia walking beside them.
Four bishops are first to climb the steep steps to the grave, their bright red cassocks almost the only flash of colour on the hillside.
As the warrior pallbearers hand over their charge for the ascent the chanting begins:
Toia mai
Te waka
Ki te urunga,
Te waka
Ki te moenga,
Te waka
And suddenly the hillside is a mass of arms moving in unison encouraging the pallbearers, calling Dame Te Ata to her final home. Those who are close enough reach out to touch the coffin as it passes by.
At the rear of the procession there is a poignant glimpse of Dame Te Ata's husband, Whatumoana, being carried in a chair up the hill to the graveside.
And at the top, the sounds of haka and karanga echo off the gullies.
A whaea kaikaranga has waited for hours in the cold to begin her last link of the karanga chain, to call her loved one home to the urupa atop Tainui's sacred mountain.
Her lament begins as the teams of men surge up the maunga.
The whaea also calls to the tupuna who already lie in the clay of Taupiri – acknowledging their presence.
The black sea of mourners parts to let the men through, and after a last huge effort up the steep slopes, the Queen is there, surrounded by chanting warriors with taiaha and mere.
People spontaneously join in the haka as King Koroki's korowai is lifted from the casket, and Dame Te Ata lowered into the ground.
Generations of her whanau, and kuia, hold single stem red roses. Honoured pakeha guests Prime Minister Helen Clark and Chief Justice Sian Elias stand graveside, surrounded by scenes of open grief in the sunshine.
There are hymns and in one final gesture the mourners throw their roses into the deep hole and a mournful lament drifts away on the wind.
From below none of this is visible. From below the thousands of people bearing witness see the casket heaved up the hill and over the brow where, suddenly, Dame Te Ata vanishes among her people, safe in their hands.

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