Tikanga-based alternative to funeral homes offered to whānau in Bay of Plenty

A Ngāti Awa wahine is healing from the loss of her husband by helping whānau care for their deceased using tikanga Māori alternatives to funeral care. 

Sharday Cable-Ranapia, 32, is a "death doula", supporting whānau in preparations for their loved one's death and guide them on how to care for the tūpāpkau (deceased body) afterwards. 

It's a job most assume only funeral homes can carry out. However, there are no requirements to go through a funeral home, and Cable-Ranapia is passionate about helping whānau care for their deceased loved one at home. 

Tragedy led the mother of two and healthcare worker to this life path. 

Her late husband Josh was just 25 when he passed away from Ewing sarcoma, cancer of the bone, in 2019. 

The funeral home experience, and in particular the embalming process, re-traumatised her. 

"There's no intimacy and it definitely doesn't feel like our culture," she said. 

She began researching and learning the traditional Māori way of caring for tūpāpaku. 

"I found there was a whole other way that we could do tūpāpaku, death care.

"I instantly felt that I'm going to be doing this, this is where I'm going to be, this is my calling."

She guides whānau on how to shroud or wrap the body in cloth before burial, dying it using kōkōwai or earth pigment. 

Ōhope community advocate Ruth Gerzon runs the Funeral Guide's Collective, a group of funeral guides that walk whānau through how to look after their deceased loved one and make funeral arrangements. 

"We've lost that knowledge as the funerals became professionalised and the communities have lost that knowledge. 

"I just love the idea of communities taking more responsibility in life, as well as in death, to look after their own."

Sharday Cable-Ranapia.
Sharday Cable-Ranapia. Photo credit: The Hui

Funeral poverty is a major issue in the Bay of Plenty region. 

According to the Funeral Directors Association, the industry body for funeral homes, 90 percent of funerals in the region rely on WINZ funeral grants, compared to the national average of 20 percent. 

"There's a lot of funeral poverty here. I mean, you could have two or three deaths in a whānau and it can be up to $10,000 each. And, you know, within a year, that's a lot of money for whānau here," Gerzon said. 

Gerzon wants whānau to know they don't have to go through funeral homes, and that funeral guides, like Cable-Ranapia, can help them care for the body at home. 

"There's some beautiful people that work as funeral directors and the mahi that they do is stunning, but to me, it's like we can do this ourselves," Cable-Ranapia said.

The Funeral Directors Association are calling on the Government to raise the WINZ funeral grant of $2445. 

Chief executive Gillian Boyes said many families are having to opt for little or no funeral after a death due to financial constraints, which is "undignified and unfair."

Made with support from New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho.