This month started out with a long weekend in the city watching our daughter Pania play at the Regional Netball Competitions. The weekend finished on a high with our team winning the Under 13’s category. Pania played like a champ!
Noel joined us on the Tuesday for a visit to the Neuro Surgeon.
Still smiling but no good news. We left the hospital opting to stay on the list for surgery and yet still feeling a miracle could be in store.
Driving home that evening we had a call that everyone dreads. It was Noel’s sister (who happens also to be called Pania) telling us that ‘Koro’, Noels dad had died.
nothing could be done
Dad and Mum had arrived in Melbourne two days earlier in preparation for a birthday celebration. Everyone was excited and looking forward to the time that they would spend together. All the brothers and sisters would be flying in over the next week to celebrate the up an coming event but on the eve of the their second day of holidays while cooking the family a curry, dad suddenly collapsed. He had suffered an aneurism in the lining of the heart. There was nothing anyone could do. His time was up and the Father had called him home.
Needless to say dad sadly didn’t make the event, his daughter Joanne’s 50th birthday. But it was agreed that eventually the celebrations would go ahead as planned and memories of Jo’s birthday would not be just of the sadness of dad’s untimely departure but of a joyous time had by all.
One might say Dad created a whole new event of his own! Noel and I called it “Le Festa del Koro” – “The festival of the old man”. You see ‘Koro’ is the name that the grandkids called him. It’s the Moari equivalent of ‘grandad’ and can be interpreted as ‘old man’ and although it literally translates ‘old man’ it holds a sense of dignity and honour, something that our ‘Koro’ definitely deserved.
le festa del koro begins
Some of the family gather around dad ‘moari style’ singing and sharing stories, sharing tears, awaiting the day that we can all fly with him home to New Zealand
The Moko’s decorate the coffin ready for the flight under Aunty Pania’s supervision.
off to new zealand
Awaiting flights with our lovely mum (Marion, bob’s beloved) dressed ready for the 4am arrival and call onto the Marae. Needless to say the mokopuna (grand kids) were tired and none of us would sleep that night.
the mokopuna – grand children
The last of the 24 flying landed after midnight ready for the drive to Cambridge where the rest of the Whanau (extended family) would meet us and together we would drive in convoy, despite the blinding rain, to Maungatautari.
Here the traditional Tangi will take place and Koro will be finally laid to rest on family land. Meanwhile we feel blessed to have had this precious time with dad before he is taken in by the extended family from the Marae and we become secondary as tradition takes over.
We stood with the Whanua for some time breathing in the cold dank air, frost on our breath, awaiting the welcome song that would signal us to walk onto the Marae. Mothers carrying sleeping babies, toddlers moving here and there, sons and daughters chatting, the elderly waiting but mostly the voices of the many Mokopuna (grandchildren) could be heard whispering and giggling when they would normally be fast asleep.
and finally the song came
As the ‘Karanga’ (the call or greeting) sounded out we were ushered slowly in the dark through the doorway of the Marae to the front of the meeting house. We were greeted by Elders in the traditional fashion, they awaited our response. It was slow in coming, neither Noel or Toni spoke enough Moari to reply. Eventually they realised and ushered us to sit down beside dad’s resting place.
‘haere mai, haere mai’
This can be a haunting sound if you’re not use to it but I loved hearing the “Hare mai’s” ringing through the valley, signalling to the family to assume our position by the coffin and listen to the ‘mihi’ – ‘ancestoral stories and loving words’ most of which are spoken in Moari and none of which i could really understand but within the foreign words I could hear a familiar heart.
Here the family sit as they would for the next few days only taking the occasional break .
The next few days would pass slowly as we sat beside the elders welcoming family and friends that came in a steady stream to pay their respects. It was a long process and although it was filled with tradition, formalities and tears, laughter could be heard as we were reminded of dad’s life here on earth.
Over the next few days, every time someone arrived at the entrance of the Marae (whether by 2’s or 20’s) the formalities would begin. As visitors waited at the entrance of the Marae one of the women would sound out the traditional ‘Karanga’ to signal their arrival and call them on. Everyone dressed in black as is the custom.
Even some of the Moko’s (grandchildren) would be dressed in black.
alissa and domenic on the burial day
the po whakamutunga- or night of ending
After Paul (our Brother in law) addresses the crowd, Noel gives his own version of a ‘Karanga’, complete with ‘river dance’ overtones bringing laughter to the crowded room! Thus began the ‘po whakamutunga’ – the final evening of the Tangi.
This is the first time the immediate family is allowed to speak and share their stories about Koro’.
Custom requires that after one has spoken one must sing. Fortunately for us we all love to sing and had readied ourselves by brushing up on all the traditional Moari songs and many of dad’s favourite tunes. What a joyous time we had listening to all the stories and songs that night as many others shared their fond memories.
I can’t remember this lovely ladies name but I wont forget her words of wisdom as she reminded us not to forget how dad’s passing had reconnected us to the Marae and the special connection we had to this place. I can still hear her words ‘do not forget what you have here’.
This was all part of a plan dad had begun to orchestrate along with the hand of the an Almighty God. Something happened that weekend for our family and in those few days, something very significant had been brought to life. A family separated by lands and seas had been united for a greater purpose.
on into the night
Brother Tony speaks and below Beth sings along with family and friends in response to a story shared. Beth was amazing in instructing us all on ‘Marae Custom’ and as her husband Paul wove ‘God stories and Moari stories together one could feel the bonds of love drawing us all closer together.
We chose Paul to do the official speaking for the family as it is customary that none of the immediate Kin can speak during ceremony times. So on the eve of the po whakamotunga (night of ending) Paul led the official opening. He, the white bearded one below, was very close to dad shared with him many life experiences.
beautiful sisters pania, rose and joanne
The celebration goes long into the night and finally we try to get some sleep along with all those that have joined us over the last few days…and they are many!
sleeping on the marae
It was a case of first in best dressed. Bodies everywhere, babies crying and men snoring. Needless to say there wasn’t a lot of sleep except for the smart ones that brought sleeping tablets.
and the final farewell
Finally the day came to say goodbye. Brothers and husbands carry dad to the place he asked to be laid the final resting place for his body but not his soul.
As the long procession followed the men through the archway and down the road to the ‘Urupa’ (burial ground) the rain began to fall.
After the coffin was finally laid in the ground (and I do mean finally – the funniest thing was that in true Kara fashion, the coffin wouldn’t fit into the hole – a kind rellie jumped in – not once but twice to shovel out the necessary dirt) then we could say our goodbyes!
Suddenly, ome of the younger ones broke out in a spontaneous Huka and the sound of a shell horn rang out a last farewell. It’s hard to explain the sense of joy and exhilaration that could be felt, not because it was finally over but more that it was such a grand finale!
and then a celebration feast
The feast went on and on. There were so many people that there had to be three sittings and at the end of it all, the immediate Whanau had to sing and entertain those that were left to clean. Here is Jo, and fellow daughter in law with her son Manaia on the final day of celebrations.
the brothers at the final feast
I would love to say that is the end of this wonderful month to remember but it is not. Its only a third of the way through.
We still have a trip down to hastings with Whanau, a 5 hour drive back to Auckland to fly back for a 50th birthday party in Melbourne and a flight home to Perth just in time to repack for a wedding in Bali!
So for now, our time on the Marae comes to a close.
Thankyou ‘Koro Bob’
Although the journey was at times difficult for all involved, the ramifications of what you have done will go on into eternity. So until we all meet again on the other side.
‘Haere Ra’ – Goodbye to our Father, Koro and Friend