Bones were the visible remainders of the dead, but they were dangerous reminders; more than sacred relics to be reverenced, they were by their very nature capable of causing death or misfortune to the living.
3.7The concept of tapu was also intrinsically linked with the level of mana attached to the person in life. This in turn was reflected in the elaborateness of the tangihanga that followed death and ultimately the disposition of the human remains. Burial practices varied between different iwi and in response to different geographical and sociological conditions. However, anthropologists believe that after the tangihanga the dead were commonly buried in relatively shallow graves on the perimeters of settlements. These burial grounds, known as urupā, were regarded as wāhi tapu, where human activity was controlled by strict protocols and prohibitions, reflecting both the sacred status of the dead and also the risk their presence could pose for the living.
3.9Permanent settlement and the absence of inter-tribal warfare allowed for the visible commemoration of the dead in the forms of canoe cenotaphs, and elaborately carved mortuary houses known as papa tūpāpaku were built to contain the bodies of high ranking individuals during the first cycle of grieving and before permanent interment. A notable example was the elaborate four metre high mausoleum constructed at Raroera Pa to house the remains of Tainui leader Te Wherowhero’s daughter. High ranking Māori were also commemorated through the creation of wāhi tapu used as repositories for clothes and tapu objects belonging to the dead.
3.11In the contemporary context urupā are given legal protection within our legal framework under Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993. This Act sets out the powers of the Māori Land Court and establishes a range of administrative structures for application to different land uses. Among these, section 338 sets out the provisions for the establishment of Māori reservations. Like cemeteries and recreational reserves set aside by the colonial government, these reservations were intended for communal purposes such as marae and urupā. Te Ture Whenua Maori Act allows for any land of special significance to Māori to be designated as a reserve. The land cannot be alienated except with the approval of the court and with respect to wāhi tapu sites the trustees can impose whatever restrictions necessary to protect the tapu status of the site.