Iwi grapple with destruction of ancient burial grounds

Ancient, sacred and under threat.

Iwi representatives say that coastal erosion due to climate change is destroying some of Aotearoa's most ancient burial sites.

Ngati Ranginui environmental manager Carlton Bidois says he has been picking up ancient koiwi, or bones, that have been washed out of burial sites for the past 15 years. 

He says it's an issue that also tests relationships among iwi and they grapple with working through to whom the bones belong.

"Those koiwi belong to someone's family and that's where the hurt and the raruraru starts arising."

With burial sites deteriorating, finding new sites to relocate and lay koiwi to rest - especially in an area like Tauranga - moana is an added problem. 

"The only places that are left where we could put them are council reserves, and so it's not a place we own, it's not a place we can protect, and it's not a place where it's easy for us to look after them for the rest of time," says Mr Bidois.

Cultural monitor for Maketu Liam Tapsell agrees that reinterring koiwi is a sensitive issue for many Māori. 

"There are lots of people who are against that... they like to leave them, let them rest... but you know, common sense has to prevail at some time - they either move, or they're going to disappear. They're going to be destroyed."

Okurei Point in Maketu is a wahi tapu, or sacred burial site, which suffered from a landslide in January, bringing down an ancient rua.

"The top of the cliff came down and the koiwi were just scattered all along the beach. Unfortunately with the big tides that were coming in, the big waves were coming in, they were taking a lot of them out, or spreading them along the rocks," says Mr Tapsell.

They collected around six bags of koiwi, which are currently being held at Te Puke Police Station.

This latest incident has made Mr Tapsell even more determined to save Maketu's ancient burial ground from further destruction.

"When one of these happens, one of these tragedies happens, then it gets everyone up and start thinking, 'We've got to do something about this or they will disappear like this one,' so out of tragedy will come good. Some positive will come out of this tragedy."

The Hui