Topic: Water Safety

NZ Police and tikanga Māori - who takes care of rāhui after drownings?

By Raniera Harrison

Any death at sea, in Māori terms at least, generally means restricted access to the site.

However, now NZ Police are taking an increased approach to work with iwi to allow customary Māori practise more room in dealing with such issues.

Respected Bay of Islands elder, 84-year-old Hirini Kingi (Ngāti Tautahi, Ngāti Whakaeke) is apart of the Police push to involve tikanga Māori when dealing with death at sea, especially drownings.

"All I can do is be honest with you and say that we need to work with them," says Kingi.

The new initiative is being trialled between NZ Police Maritime Units and iwi across the Bay of Islands region this summer. 

Peter Comer, who is apart of one of the country's two National Maritime Units says that collaboration is paramount.

"it's about the different cultural beliefs that we need to appreciate and understand, and the best way to do it is to work with local kaumātua."

The initiative, and its trial period which concludes in the Bay of Islands on Sunday has already garnered huge respect from local iwi, who say there is huge cultural importance on the protection of tapu in regional boundaries.

"[Removing of tapu] is relatively straightforward on land, however at sea presents numerous challenges so it needs to be done correctly" says Kingi, who has been called upon to remove a customary ban on the collection of any shellfish or swimming at the Black Rocks, near Moturoa Island, where the body of a Māori male was confirmed dead after what is believed to have been a drowning last Friday.

NZ Police say that collaborative initiatives like this with iwi are sadly few and far between and hope to spread this nationwide.

"We've got two maritime units one in Auckland, and one in Wellington. This boats normally based in Auckland, and so we're here - however, we don't have huge numbers of Police boats around the country. So in relation to blessings for diver tragedies and that, it would be Coastguard that we would use" says Comer.

The new year has started tragically on the water in Northland with two suspected drownings in the first week of 2019 alone after a 65-year old Hokianga man was recovered from Motukaraka Point on Monday.

"The Police are wanting to keep future generations safe for their own benefit," says Kingi.

It remains yet undecided when this collaborative initiative will be rolled out nationwide.