It has taken me a while to process and write about this visit. Most cemeteries this year I have felt no reservations about walking through and documenting with photographs, which this blog proves. However, it is important for me to recognize that as an outsider many cemeteries contain personal webs of meaning that I will never be able to access. In New Zealand I thought it was very important that I visit a Māori urupā, or cemetery, because the colonial victorian history that I see in most cemeteries does not tell the whole story about the country. However, these spaces are private, belonging to the tribe, outside of government control, not easy to find, and tapu (sacred). Māori culture in New Zealand is well accepted and protected, but that does not mean that the colonial past is completely forgotten. One way of protecting culture is keeping some of it a mystery, private, and outside the hands of the everyday public.
Mount Taupiri is about an hour and a half drive south of Auckland, and the home to a very special Māori urupā of the Waikato tribe. The cemetery is embedded on a mountain where there was once a pa, or village. However, one of the leaders, Te Putu, was killed and then buried at the site, deeming it tapu, and therefore it could no longer be used for the living. Soon after others began to be buried there, with the Māori kings and queen buried in the highest part of the cemetery at the summit of the hill. To get to the urupā one must cross a river where there is only a small bridge that is essentially a curve of a highway, continue along the highway, and then again cross some rail tracks. It is not very accessible by foot, which makes it more protected. There is also a large sign at the entrance asking not to bring in food, no tourists, and no cameras or video. I was very conscious of the fact that I had to tred very carefully through this space since I had no connection to anyone buried there, and although I was a “researcher” instead of a “tourist” my presence might not be welcome. There were many taps around because when you leave the cemetery you are also supposed to wash your hands with water in order to get rid of any lingering spirits you might be bringing with you.
I have been thinking a lot about respecting the mysticism and privacy of this space, and so I have decided not to write too much about my visit or what I saw there. However, I will say that my visit was very spiritual and this was unlike any other place that I have been this year. The grave stones and decorations were not anything totally out of the ordinary, but rather it was the intention, care, and love that I would see was put into them. Al cemeteries can evoke this emotion and have this sort of power if we treat them this way- with respect and love.
Some goats that followed me.