To settle their affairs, the Maori met in their meeting houses. This ritual was called hui. One of the most important hui rituals was tangihanga, the traditional mourning ceremony for the deceased. When a person died, the body was laid out in the family or group home, openly on mats, later in coffins, to pay respect and say goodbye. Speeches were made and laments were sung. This ceremony could last weeks or months. That of King Tawhiao, who died in 1894, lasted almost two months. After that, the deceased were buried. Through missionization, the time of the mourning ceremony was shortened and burial was increasingly carried out according to Christian tradition.
Bodies of deceased, higher-ranking personalities were also mummified and placed in burial caves in the past. Andreas Reischek (1924: 172ff) describes this in his diaries as follows:
“If a chief had died, he was laid out in a sitting position. [...] Then the body was taken by the Tohunga [priest] with all the objects that the deceased had used during the illness into a cave or placed it in a coffin made of an old canoe or hidden in a hollow tree trunk, where the corpse remained until the flesh had decayed. When the decomposition process was over, the priests brought back the bones and utensils of the dead. [...] Then began the scraping of the bones, in which all those invited participated. The bones were worked with knives made of obsidian, then wrapped in a mat and kept by the tohunga in a cave or in a hollow tree. The places of the dead were taboo, as was the tohunga through 4-6 weeks, depending on the rank of the deceased chief. [...]
In earlier times, the bodies of outstanding chiefs were mummified. [...] The viscera were taken out of the dead and the abdominal cavity was stuffed with dried seaweed. Then the corpse was tightly tied in a sitting position, smoked and dried in the sun.”