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Avian Bird Flu: Hone Harawira

9 December 2005

Avian Bird Flu: Hone Harawira

Harawira; Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau

Panic-driven comments about Maori needing to abandon the custom of tangihanga in response to the threat of the bird flu, are in poor taste, suggest Hone Harawira, Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau.

"The bird flu pandemic is rightfully considered a threat to our world, and all societies, including our own, must make preparations to combat this threat" stated Mr Harawira.

"One of the concerns expressed by medical researchers is that this bird flu may remain contagious even after death" stated Hone Harawira, Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau.

"That of course, will have a huge impact on the Maori ceremony of tangihanga where the farewelling of the dead and the celebration of life itself involves the presence of the body of the deceased".

"Because that may impact on the lives of others in society, people are right to express concern. But it does not give them the right to callously accuse kaumatua and kuia of being foolish to say how deeply any changes to the ceremony of tangihanga will affect them" stated Mr Harawira.

"I support the call from Mark Solomon [Kaiwhakahaere for Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu] for more dialogue and discussion about the emergence of the Avian flu, and its impact on our tikanga" said Mr Harawira.

"Tangihanga are a beautiful ceremony. They provide family and friends with time to share their final thoughts with the deceased, within an environment that is open, warm, and often very, very humorous. Families meet people they may never have known were friends of the deceased, and hear stories which are often uplifting, and revealing" said Mr Harawira.

"Tangihanga also provide a connection between those in the living world and those who have already passed on, enabling those gathered to speak also of their thoughts for others who have died. Speeches to the deceased, in Maori and in English, constitute some of the greatest oratory I have ever heard, and the descriptions of the world of Hawaiki and the pathways to the other side can be a joy to listen to. They are an education for younger ones, a challenge for those coming into that role themselves, and a comfort to the older generation".

I know too, that many Pakeha appreciate the sharing and positive experience that tangihanga allows. Many have spoken of how much they value the opportunity to share the jokes and the songs and the speeches and the community spirit. Indeed, Dr Pita Sharples, co-leader of the Maori Party, often talks about the importance of helping Pakeha people who seek his advice about how they can farewell their deceased in a similar manner".

"Tangihanga are a long-held and cherished tradition with deep meaning in the Maori world, which I am not qualified to speak on in any real depth. They have huge therapeutic value, and should never be set aside with the callous disregard".

"I agree that any threat of this nature requires us to take drastic measures, and that we need to be considering those steps now, but there is a precedent we can learn from. At the turn of the twentieth century, Maori people died in their thousands, killed by a disease they had no knowledge of, and no time to prepare for, and Maori society was almost wiped out because of it".

"One hundred years later, we face a similar threat, but this time we have had the warnings, we have the time, we have the expertise and we have the opportunity to manage the threat in a more responsible manner". "If our long-held customs must be set aside, let us do so in a manner that is positive and responsible".


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