Whānau makes history with exhumation

By Mere McLean
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

As night turns to dawn a historic event is to take place it's a first for the people of Rangitahi Marae in Murupara. Today the remains of Leah Manaehu Richards will be exhumed. 

Leah was the fourth of five sisters. Her parents Reotahi Leo and Juda Richards had already been living in Murupara with the family. In 1983 at the age of 18, Leah died suddenly authorities had ruled it an overdose on her medication. 

Juda Richards (Te Whānau a Apanui) says, “Our relations made an offer for us to utilise Rangitahi graveyard and at the time because of our grief of the death of our child my husband and I accepted.”

The family may have lived in Murupara but they were from Te Whānau a Apanui. So, after many years the family moved.

Richards says, “When I moved from Murupara to Te Teko to continue on with my teaching career I knew I had done something wrong when I had allowed her to be buried there now after all this time my children are supporting my wish.”

It's taken more than a year of planning, meetings with the elders of Ngāti Manawa as well as the Bay of Plenty District Health Board and Work safe NZ.  They have finally reached this point. Funeral director Michael Wolfram, whose expert opinion in this project has helped the family in this process. 

Michael Wolfram says, “Normally the license is just for the family or for the council to dissenter the body but in this occasion the family had to come to the Marae and get their permission to take her from the urupa and make sure that everybody was comfortable with that.” 

Behind a tarpaulin and dressed in protective gear, Leah's mother and her family waited. Health officer Helen Futter moved forward to formally identify the remains and then her mother moved forward towards her daughter body. 

Wolfram says, “What we did find was that the casket which had been made in the 1980's of MDF or clip board they would of called it then with a veneer on it. The plastic veneer was all since there the wood had almost disintegrate it had collapse inwards into the casket. 

“When we exposed the led open what was left of the wood on there, there laid Leah dressed in her clothing in a skeletal form,” says Wolfram.

After all the tears, work and planning the family of Leah Manaehu Richards are finally taking her home.

Verna Currey (Sister) says, “I want to acknowledge Ngāti Manawa more than anything for the last 34 years they have held Leah they have kept her safe they keep my parents safe and all of us safe we grew up here I want them to know that it hurts us as much as it hurts them to let her go.”

Leah Manaehu Richards final resting place is in Raukokore overlooking the east coast.