Urupa Tautaiao: Young Maori explore ancient burial practices towards sustanable approaches


  • Kathleen Frewen Auckland University of Technology
  • Hinematau McNeill Auckland University of Technology




Māori Knowledge, Indigenous Sustainability, Rangatahi (youth), ), Urupā tautaiao (green burials), Tapu (sacred)


The turn to indigenous epistemologies is one of the most exciting and revolutionary shifts to happen in the university within the last three decades and is nowadays accelerating in influence in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is bringing with it dynamic new ways of thinking about research and new methodologies for conducting it, a raised awareness of the different kinds of knowledge that indigenous practice can convey and an illuminating body of information about the creative process. Indigenous practice provide access into other ways of knowing, and alternative approaches to conducting and presenting knowledge. This article discusses one Māori project in this context, that is intended to challenge indigenous people to (re) evaluate post-colonial environmentally harmful practices in the death space. The project explores the concept of rangatahi (Māori youth) attitudes to revitalising ancient Māori death practices to inform the development of design intervention aimed to challenge mortuary colonial practices. As such, it is part of a larger research that is supported by Marsden Fund from Royal Society of New Zealand. The project outcome includes the design of modern urupā tautaiao (natural burial) commemoration site, applying technology such as tribal social media platforms regarding death, and GPS mapping of wāhi tapu (sacred sites). Death is highly tapu (sacred) to Māori and requires strict observations of rituals to ensure spiritual safety. The revitalisation of tribal knowledge is not just the prerogative of the elders, the voices of indigenous youth must be heard as they are the future, of the planet and the people. This project contributes to the understanding of research that navigates across philosophical, inter-generational, territorial and community boundaries, evidencing theories and methodologies that inform to culture studies and creative practice.


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Author Biographies

Kathleen Frewen, Auckland University of Technology

Kathleen’s research and teaching within the academy are kaupapa Māori driven, simultaneously interwoven with the seeds from her grass-roots rural background.

Hinematau McNeill, Auckland University of Technology

Hinematau is actively involved in Māori communities, which informs her research practice. Recently, her interest in artistic practice-led research has invigorated her postgraduate work. She believes that when indigenous knowledge is truly valued, it is not only a decolonising force, but can enrich our collective lived experience.


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How to Cite

Frewen, K. ., & McNeill, H. (2023). Urupa Tautaiao: Young Maori explore ancient burial practices towards sustanable approaches. DAT Journal, 8(1), 450–480. https://doi.org/10.29147/datjournal.v8i1.702