Lockdown Hero - Tyrone Raumati

27 Jun 2020 | Articles

Lockdown Hero - Tyrone Raumati

Lockdown brought hardship to many. For those that lost a loved one during Level 4, the strict social restrictions made grieving so much harder. For Māori, the time honoured rituals of a community coming together on a Marae to mourn their dead, the tangihanga, could not take place. For many Māori, this made their loss so much harder.

Tyrone Raumati, cultural adviser to Hospice, community leader and retired funeral director, led Ngāti Whatua iwi through the COVID-19 restrictions laying out the guidelines of tangihanga. Tyrone says, “I had a little bit of time up my sleeve so focussed my energy on advocating for families who had experienced loss.”

Tyrone’s effort during Lockdown came at a personal cost. “I decided my bubble should be a work bubble and joined the funeral directors at a Whangarei funeral home. I would come into contact with so many family bubbles, the safest thing to do was to stay away from home.”

The changes were very strict and added pressure to families who were grieving. “So my role was to keep people informed and ensure their voice was heard. Level 4 meant no family was allowed to attend a funeral home or Marae, so services had to be done back at the house and the goodbyes done in the driveway. I made sure funeral homes had the information and support to provide services to a single family bubble in a safe manner.

"I had to deal with a great deal of anger and swearing. Families were caught off guard. For example if there had been an accident, once the body had been removed from a coroner, that would be the last time they would see their loved one. This was very stressful for funeral homes and those working in front line.” says Tyrone.

"People couldn’t understand why they were not allowed to grieve traditionally. This remembering of those who have passed away serves to remind Māori of their whakapapa and their cultural imperatives – the importance of life, people and relationships."

“I spent a lot of long nights on Zoom meetings providing advice to funeral homes and funeral associations, talking about what was safe and possible from a cultural perspective."

"Death, of course, is very serious, and Māori couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been consulted, so then it was a matter of trying to change the legislation for something that was more culturally acceptable. Sadly right at the beginning the Ministry of Health had very closed minds on policy.” Behind the scenes Tyrone lobbied hard with Crown to get more flexibility. “It wasn’t until we started highlighting what was happening with families that they managed to make some changes.”

Tyrone says he had great support from the police and stayed in close contact, making sure they were up to date with the changes made. Iwi were very influential in making sure tangihanga was at the forefront of discussions. "Their lines of communication with Marae were very good, so that made getting information out easy. It was also good to see iwi Māori had put aside any differences and worked together to get the job done. There was a well-knit connection where all Māori were on the same page."

When level 3 came interregional travel was still difficult for whanau, so a body could not be returned to a Marae of choice. Sometimes a difficult family decision had to be made about either, have a local burial in a local urupā, or, settle for cremation.

Tyrone’s work during Lockdown went way above what was required because of his aroha for his people. It came with courage and openness, and offered comfort, support and empathy in a time of need for many.

National Volunteer Week is a time to showcase the many individuals that came together, like Tyrone, to support their local communities, Who was your Tyrone Raumati in your community?

If you want to help others or a cause take a look at our current volunteering opportunities to help make a difference in your community. Or if you are a non-profit organisation and need some helpers, you can find out how to add your volunteer listings here. For corporates, take a look at our employee volunteering programme to see how we can help your team help the community. Otherwise, feel free to contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

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