Thanks for your interesting question.
"The Pacific Ocean has an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 islands; the
exact number is unknown. These islands are also sometimes collectively
called Oceania, and are traditionally grouped into three:
Melanesia means black islands. These include New Guinea (the largest
Pacific island,which is divided into the nation of Papua New Guinea
and the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya), New Caledonia, Vanuatu,
Fiji, and the Solomon Islands.
Micronesia means small islands. These include the Marianas, Guam,
Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States
Polynesia means many islands. These include New Zealand, the Hawaiian
Islands, the Midway Atoll, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, the
Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island."
About the people of the Pacific Islands:
"Several different racial and ethnic groups make up the people of the
Pacific Islands, reflecting various migrants to the region over
several thousand years. These peoples include Melanesians,
Micronesians, and Polynesians, whose origins can be traced to
Southeast Asia; Europeans and Americans; Chinese; and Indians, found
mostly in Fiji. More recent immigrants include Vietnamese to New
Caledonia and Vanuatu, and Filipinos to Micronesia."
The vast majority of beliefs or religions practiced in the Pacific
islands can be split into the following:
- Spirit worship (animism)
- Pantheistic beliefs (consisting of many gods).
The Christian, Islamic and Hinduism mourning or grief rituals and
practices are well known and have been deeply studied in the western
world. The following is a short description of the mainstream grief
rituals and practices of mourning in Christianity, Islam and Hinduism
religions that are widespread all over the Pacific Islands.
Further on I will discuss the more ancient tribal displays and
practices of mourning of the spirit worshipers and other pantheistic
"Essentially, the Christian belief is one of resurrection and the
continuation of the human soul, which is usually dependent on how life
on earth has been lived.
Many people call themselves 'Christian' but may not be actively linked
with a church, and some churches may decline to hold a funeral service
for someone who has not been an active member.
Many churches have specially written funeral services, as well as
special readings, prayers and hymns (songs). These will include
readings from the holy book, the Bible.
Some funerals may include a special service called, Holy Communion,
Eucharist or Mass which recalls the last supper that Jesus Christ
shared with his disciples before his death.
At the end of the service, special prayers are said either when the
mourners are standing around the grave or if it is a cremation, when
the coffin disappears from view.
It is traditional to wear dark clothes to funerals and black ties with
suits, but sometimes, people prefer to wear bright clothes as a
celebration of life and resurrection.
A memorial may follow some funeral services later, particularly if the
family prefer a simple, private funeral. The memorial service provides
the opportunity to celebrate the life of the deceased with a wider
group of friends and colleagues. "
Items of color may be replaced by black articles in houses of mourners
- Black drapes on the windows, mirrors also may be covered by black
From the Rites of Transition
"Religious pictures are turned to the wall, and in some traditions
mirrors are covered. Relatives are beckoned to bid farewell and sing
sacred songs at the side of the body....a special funeral priest is
called. In a shelter built by the family, a fire ritual (homa) is
performed to bless nine brass kumbhas (water pots) and one clay pot.
Lacking the shelter, an appropriate fire is made in the home. The
"chief mourner" leads the rites. He is the eldest son in the case of
the father's death and the youngest son in the case of the mother's.
In some traditions, the eldest son serves for both, or the wife,
son-in-law or nearest male relative...The chief mourner now performs
arati, passing an oil lamp over the remains, then offering
flowers...Returning home, all bathe and share in cleaning the house. A
lamp and water pot are set where the body lay in state. The water is
changed daily, and pictures remain turned to the wall. The shrine room
is closed, with white cloth draping all icons. During these days of
ritual impurity, family and close relatives do not visit others'
homes, though neighbors and relatives bring daily meals to relieve the
burdens during mourning. Neither do they attend festivals and temples,
visit swamis, nor take part in marriage arrangements. Some observe
this period up to one year. For the death of friends, teachers or
students, observances are optional. While mourning is never suppressed
or denied, scriptures admonish against excessive lamentation and
encourage joyous release. The departed soul is acutely conscious of
emotional forces directed at him. Prolonged grieving can hold him in
earthly consciousness, inhibiting full transition to the heaven
worlds. In Hindu Bali, it is shameful to cry for the dead. "
ISLAMIC BEREAVEMENT RITUALS
"According to the Islamic tradition, Muslims are encouraged to
accompany the funeral procession to the grave. It is their duty to
offer condolences and comfort to the bereaved. However, while doing
this one should be mindful to say things that help the bereaved to
accept God's will. Comments to the bereaved should be short and
tasteful, being careful not to say anything that would be offensive.
Finally, excessive wailing, shrieking and demonstrative mourning is
The allowed mourning period for a deceased Muslim is three days,
except in the case of a widow mourning her husband, in which case she
may mourn four months and 10 days.
It is recommended that one leave after offering the family condolences
and offers of assistance. However, in practice, some families will
hold gatherings offering food and drink to visitors during that three
Family and friends will customarily bring food to the family of the
deceased to relieve them of worrying about those details. It is
appropriate to send flowers after the funeral."
The various tribes and cults to be found across the Pacific Island
region have numerous types of mourning rituals and practices -
Painting or coloring the face a variety of colors or adorning the face
Specific mourning articles of clothing or special mourning relics are
worn by both women and men.
Seclusion of the spouse is widespread - sometimes for long periods of
time. Feasting or fasting at certain points of time during the
mourning period is common place.
Payment of money (or equivalent) to relatives to 'pay' for their share
in the mourning. Adorning or removing clothing to signify the end of
the mourning period.
Special locations are also used for practicing mourning - burial
grounds, ancestral meeting houses and special houses of mourning.
Occasionally mourning masks are worn.
Parades and communal burials or funerals are sometimes lead by a
'chief' mourner who leads the ritual of lament.
Special songs (that have very distinct terms of intervals, scale,
phrases, and rhythm, as well as, melodic structure and composition),
Tribal dancing, chanting and wailings are also popular across the
Unique mourning rituals can also be observed, such as the "Washing of
the Stones" in Tonga.
Self mutilation, from cutting off hair to such more painful rituals of
cutting the flesh or amputation of fingers can also be found. Some
mourning ceremonies also include harming other mourners at funeral
Taboos or prohibition of fishing or farming can be applied by the
spiritual leaders in cases of great mourning, such as a death of a
greatly loved leader.
The following is a compilation of the various tribal practices to be
found across some of the Pacific Islands and regions.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
"In Papua New Guinea The famous and proud warriors, the Huli Wigmen,
have great reverence for birds, imitating them in ceremonial dances
and decorating their wigs with feathers, flowers and cuscus fur. The
wigs are woven from human hair. Everlasting daisies are especially
cultivated for use in the wigs, while their faces are painted with
yellow ochre. The women, by contrast wear black for their wedding and
coat themselves with blue-grey clay when mourning. "
"In Papua New Guinea, gray is a mourning color. Certain tribesmen
adorn their faces with gray clay to represent death and spirits."
The TAPA cloth (similar to the Widow's caps to be found worn by some
indigenous Australian communities):
"For the people of Collingwood Bay in Oro Province, north-east Papua
New Guinea, death was associated with elaborate mourning rituals and
the wearing of specific mourning attire. After the deceased was
buried, their spouse went into seclusion for a considerable period of
time, sometimes many months. It was often the widow who did this but,
in some areas, it was also the widower. During seclusion she could not
be seen or heard by the other villagers and when she went out she had
to be covered up by a large tapa. But she could be visited by other
women from the village who would help her make the baja (mourning
vest) she would wear when her seclusion was over.
Her seclusion ended with a feast and a ceremony which could involve a
number of widows. The widow could then leave the house and throw away
the old tapas, but she would wear the mourning jacket and ornaments
(kasi) as a sign of her mourning. In addition, other relatives of the
deceased might abstain from certain foods and activities as a sign of
The mourning period ended with a ceremony called a tepurukari, which
involved the widows removing their mourning attire and other mourners
making payments to relatives of the deceased so they could be relieved
of certain taboos. "
Mourning is also to be found in the art of the Chachet, Kairak, and
Uramot Baining of New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
Masks are made for initiation ceremonies (boy's circumcision, girl's
ear and nose piercing, young men's teeth blackening before marriage),
bride price exchanges and mourning ceremonies.
The Kukukuku Tribe
"Thick, light colored clays are used all over New Guinea to indicate
mourning and death. Deceased ancestors and bush spirits are part of
most New Guinea peoples day-to-day, if unseen, world. The Leahys were
first assumed to be returning ancestors by the Highland peoples
because of their white skin....yellow and whitish clays are still
commonly used by people mourning the death of a close relative. Heavy,
multiple strands of coix seeds (Job's tears) are worn in some areas
with the strands removed one at a time until the mourning period is
finished. (from Skin as Ground...)"
"There are certain ceremonial and festive activities in connection
with which women have a great deal both to say and to do. The most
important of these in solemnity and sanctity, as well as the most
imposing in display and extent, are the mortuary ceremonies. In the
tending of the corpse, the parade of grief, the burial with its
manifold rites and long series of ceremonial food distributions: in
all these activities, which begin immediately after the death of any
important tribesman and continue at intervals for months or even years
afterwards, women play a large part and have their own definite duties
to fulfill. Certain women, standing in a special relationship to the
deceased, have to hold the corpse on their knees, and fondle it; and
while the corpse is tended in the hut, another category of female
relatives performs a remarkable rite of mourning outside: a number of
them, some in couples facing each other and some singly, move in a
slow dance, forwards and backwards across the central place, to the
rhythm of the wailing dirge. As a rule, each of them carries in her
hand some object worn or possessed by the deceased. Such relics play a
great part in mourning and are worn by the women for a long time after
their bereavement. The wrapping up of the corpse and the subsequent
vigil over the grave is the duty of yet another category of the dead
Some functions of burial notably the gruesome custom of cutting up the
corpse, are performed by men. In the long period of mourning which
follows, the burden of the dramatic expression of grief falls mostly
on the women; a widow always mourns longer than a widower, a mother
longer than a father, a female relative longer than a male of the same
degree. In the mortuary distributions of food and wealth, based on the
idea that the members of the deceased's sub-clan give payment to the
other relatives for their share in the mourning, women play a
conspicuous role, and conduct some parts of the ceremonial
distributions themselves. "
from a Trobriand Island postcard:
"The central figure wears a mourning relic over her shoulder. "
"Among the natives of Kiriwina, death is the starting point of two
series of events which run almost independently of each other. Death
affects the deceased individual; his soul (baloma or balom) leaves the
body and goes to another world, there to lead a shadowy existence. His
passing is also a matter of concern to the bereft community. Its
members wail for him, mourn for him, and celebrate an endless series
of feasts. These festivities consist, as a rule, in the distribution
of uncooked food; while less frequently they are actual feasts in
which cooked food is eaten on the spot. They center around the dead
man's body, and are closely connected with the duties of mourning,
wailing and sorrowing for the dead individual. But--and this is the
important point for the present description--these social activities
and ceremonies have no connection with the spirit. They are not
performed, either to send a message of love and regret to the baloma
(spirit), or to deter him from returning; they do not influence his
welfare, nor do they affect his relation to the survivors.
It is possible, therefore, to discuss the native beliefs in afterlife
without touching the subject of mourning and mortuary ceremonies. The
latter are extremely complex, and, in order to be properly described,
a thorough knowledge of the native social system would be required. 2
In this article the beliefs concerning the spirits of the dead and
afterlife will be described.
Nevertheless, when death occurs in a village, there is an enormous
increase of superstitious fear. This fear is not, however, aroused by
the kosi but by much less "supernatural' beings, i.e., by invisible
sorceresses called mulukuausi. These are actual living women who may
be known and talked with in ordinary life, but who are supposed to
possess the power of making themselves invisible, or of despatching a
"sending" from their bodies, or of traveling vast distances through
the air. In this disembodied form they are extremely virulent,
powerful, and also ubiquitous."
Lanukilikili, or the Washing of the Stones in Tonga:
"William Mariner, in his account of Tongan traditions noted five
rituals surrounding the funeral of a Tongan high chief. Four of them
dealt with the physical abuse Tongans inflicted on themselves in a
show of deep despair and grief. During the funeral of the great
warrior ?Ulukalala Finau II, Mariner recounted that Tongan men were
driven to cut themselves with shells, and to beat themselves over
their heads with their war clubs until the blood flowed.
Equally important was the Fifth ritual, the "Lanukilikili", or the
Washing of the Stones, which signified the official end of the painful
and sometimes fatal mourning period.
In 1993 the death of Princess Melenaite Tupou Moheofo was the
beginning of another painful mourning period for her family and her
country. She was loved, admired, and respected. Her loss touched
everyone in Tonga.
It was 100 days after she had been laid to rest when Ha?atufunga, the
royal undertaker, was again summoned for one final task. The stones
had been carefully selected from those from the shores of the volcanic
island of Tofua. Each stone is selected by size and shape and it is
time for Ha?atufunga to carefully sort them out and to wash them clean
of salt water and sand. (interview: 96 year old former matapule)
There are two ceremonies of the Kilikili. Washing the stones in the
water is called the "Lanu Kilikili". Taking them from the water to
another "sene" and mixing them with oil is called the "Hifo
"Don't be surprised to see so much black clothing, as Tongans mourn
the death of (far extended) family members for many months! "
"In ancient times the dead were either buries in a cave or in the
ground or alternatively wrapped in cloth and laid on a raised
platform, always with the head turned towards the rising sun. At
death, the relatives slashed themselves with shark's teeth or knives
to make the blood flow. Their faces were blackened, their hair cut and
sometimes front teeth knocked out - all done to show their grief.
Close relatives change their personal names in memory of the deceased.
Mourning ceremonies were long and arduous.
Most of these customs disappeared in the 1800s although the changing
of names and burial of valuable property with the deceased continued
in Atiu and the northern atolls until the 1960s. Burial became the
only method of disposal of bodies, so much so that some families are
now short of land to bury their dead.
Until recently, the period of mourning was six months or more for
relatives, but in recent years the mourning period had become
progressively shorter and the ceremonies less elaborate. The wearing
of black, formerly universal, is now less common and is often replaced
by a black ribbon which is worn for a period or by wearing white.
Death feasts remain important, but on a smaller scale than previously.
The Korowai tribe, "On the trail of cannibals: 35 days in the jungles
of Irian Jaya "
"My eyes wander to an old woman herding a group of piglets. I notice
that several fingers are missing from her left hand. Yonis explains
that they were amputated with an ax to mourn the death of a relative.
As she passes, her eyes trained on the ground, the porters erupt in
hoots and hollers, sending her stumbling quickly down the trail. "
"On the death of a chief or any person of note, the female friends of
the deceased congregate together for a certain number of days, and
express their grief by loud and melancholy wailings during the day and
dancing by night. All the relations of the deceased cut their hair off
as a token of mourning. Whatever property may have belonged to the
deceased person, is immediately carried off by those who can first
obtain possession of it, and this custom is so universal, that things
so obtained are considered lawful prize."
The nature of Aboriginal suicide & grief in modern Australia:
"Grieving suicide" is real enough. Aboriginal life is one of prolonged
grief, with one funeral a fortnight, or one weekly, common enough.
There is no grief counseling. No longer is there any traditional
mourning ritual - only Western, alcohol-centered wakes"
THE STORY OF TWO BROTHERS shows how grieving causes lack of appetite.
There are two large mountain peaks on Tutuila Island of American
Samoa, the tall stately Matafao, and the imposing Mt. Pioa, also known
as "Rainmaker". They preside over the island and face each other
across Pago Pago harbor.
This is an excerpt of the story of how they came to be. "...For a
long time Pioa and Matafao grieved over their father's death.
The brothers were so sad they forgot to eat. At last they decided to
have a big feast...."
Mourning rituals after Fijian political leader Ratu Mara's death (The
A one-year period of mourning for the late Chief ended on 13 May 2005,
with the close of a series of ceremonies that that started on the 9th.
Those who had been observing mourning rituals symbolically changed
from black clothes into their normal attire. (Members of the Mara
family, however, said that they would continue to wear black for a
further three months, until the period of mourning for his wife, Adi
Lala, is over). Many thousands of people arrived in Tubou Village on
the island of Lakeba to take part in the vakataraisulu ritual, which
lifted taboos in place for the Mara family and the people of the Lau
The chief was then transported by ferry back to his home village of
Somosomo on Taveuni. Immediately, a tabu was placed on all fishing
around the entire country. It was later reduced to just around the
island of Taveuni. But the Fijians believed that it was important to
follow the tabu because if one were to break it, they risked not only
the wrath of other Fijians, but also an attack by the shark gods who
were accompanying the chief?s body back to his island. Due to the
familial relationship with Dakuwaqa, it was believed that for the area
specifically surrounding the Somosomo Village, the tabu would be
strictly enforced because the shark gods were calling to pay homage to
the mana of the Tui Cakau. (The Fiji Times, 1994), (Mara J. Fulmer,
Great Feasts and Three Stages of Separation
After the initial major funeral ceremonies that included 6000 guests,
additional rituals were performed after 10 days, then every 10 days,
up to 100 days after the initial burial. Another ceremony was then
held on the one-year anniversary when a special ritual (Vakataraisulu)
that included an effigy, called a Lalawa ni mate, would be performed.
Distinguished guests were present, such as relatives from the royal
family of Tonga. At this ceremony, there was the third stage of
?rebirth? for the family who would remove their black clothing after
the initial ceremony of guests throwing whales tooth (tabua) at the
foot of the effigy. The family would then re-emerge dressed in
colorful clothing and celebrations would begin.
In addition to the rituals of the funeral, the Tui Cakau?s traditional
fishermen, called matapule would be called upon to catch sea turtles
for feeding all of the guests. They endured a one month of preparation
before going on their fishing trip, practicing certain tabus such as
obstaining from sex and alcohol. In the end, only five were able to go
on the fishing trip. The rest had broken the tabus.
All of these rituals were performed in a manner that was complemented
by traditional Methodist Christian funeral rites, as well as
additional deference to practices normally considered appropriate for
a head of state, such as a 21 gun salute, military participation in
building the funeral tomb, etc.
"A Fijian grave". work of art:
Published by Robbie and Company Ltd., General Merchants, Levuka, Fiji.
Printed by Deutsche Erfindungen, Milan. Unused and undated, but Robbie
& Co operated in Levuka in the late 19th Century.
From the ornate decoration of the frave [sic] with black and white
stones, capped with sand, this appears to be a Tongan funeral. The
mourners have their faces smeared with ash, which gives them the
rather ghostly appearance.
From the legends of Fiji:
The Nabukelevu fishermen, in mourning for the two women for Namuana
who had been changed to turtles - sing the following song:
"The women of Namuana are all dressed in mourning
Each carries a sacred club each tattooed in a strange pattern
Do rise to the surface Raudalice so we may look at you
Do rise to the surface Tinaicoboga so we may also look at you."
Rotuman recitation (Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia):
These are texts composed for dances and songs with movements; texts
intoned before battles or wrestling matches; and temo, performed
during a chief's funeral, or at a reception for a visiting chief.
"Temo praise deceased individuals, respected chiefs, and special
places. Before Christianization, mourners sang them at funerals.
Leaders chose a tempo and started the singing; they sat close to a few
others, facing inward, and the rest of the company sat around them.
The leaders performed in sets of four: the first three temo were slow
and subdued; the fourth, quick and bright, with clapping. The chorus
accompanied by humming (verea'aki) a drone."
The Maori tribe's 'tangihanga', mourning ceremony (part of the
Tikanga- the customs and traditions that have been handed down through
the passages of time):
"The tangihanga is a mourning ceremony that preserves the present-day
Maori culture and sustains their historical legacy. By serving as a
reunion, participants come together, their customs and ties
reaffirmed. Through the three-day celebration of mourning, speaking,
singing, dancing, and feasting, the core values of Maori are
exemplified and reinforced. Though the ceremony has evolved through
time, the tangihanga now holds more value for the Maori than ever
before. This is due to the elements such as cultural displays,
opportunity for communication, enculturation, and a revitalization of
solidarity. With each tangihanga, Maori culture continues into the
next generation. "
"The kuia are starting to karanga. The last speeches are taking place.
Dad's widow is crying. All this tangihanga is making a very big noise.
Now the children, the last whanau, the children of his third family,
are wailing and holding each other. I have already heard my brother
Mick saying he will take care of them. He loves his 'young family', as
he calls them. For that I love him very much.
The whaikorero are over, the crying is a lot quieter ? just a low moan
and sobbing now.
The service has begun with a beautiful Maori hymn. The harmony of the
voices is spellbinding. It makes tears roll down my cheeks unashamed.
A lot of lovely things are being said about Dad. As I listen to the
minister, it makes me feel very humble. Dad was a caring and kind man,
always helping someone."
THE REPUBLIC OF KIRIBATI
"When somebody died, all the relatives of the kaainga held a mourning
ceremony. The body was anointed with coconut oil which had been
scented with sweet smelling flowers.
The body was left in the centre of the maneaba while it decomposed,
and as the flesh fell away it was carefully wiped off the bones. While
this was taking place the elderly relatives of the dead person would
usually keep a vigil beside the body. Sometimes the near relatives
expressed their sorrow by mixing some of the liquid which dripped out
of the body with their food before eating it. After all the flesh had
been removed from the bones, these were placed in a burial ground near
the kaainga. In some cases the skull would be kept separate and
displayed in the house.
The Gilbertese people believed that at death the spirit left the body
and proceeded northwards to the place where Nakaa waited making nets.
Some spirits were trapped and others were able to return, eventually,
to hover near their ancestral lands."
ABORIGINALS in AUSTRALIA
The mourning rituals of the Arunta and Warramunga tribes of Australia:
"The mourning rituals of these tribes are very similar and vary only
during the burial of the deceased. I started my presentation by giving
the following background information regarding the beliefs of both
tribes. The Arunta and Warramunga tribe?s incorporate rituals into
every aspect of daily life, and the customs associated with death are
of the utmost importance. They centered their lives on a strong belief
and connection to the spirit world, which is evident by their mourning
rituals. Therefore, these cultures participate in complex mourning
rituals concerned with helping the spirit return to the land of the
dead and allow the life of the tribe to get back to normal...The
mourning periods of these tribes are lengthy and are divided into two
phases. The burning down of the deceased?s camp marks the commencement
of the first phase of mourning. During the first phase life changes
dramatically for the entire tribe and it can last for a period of
12-18 months. During this period no person is permitted to mention the
name of the deceased, except if absolutely necessary, and then only in
a whisper. The reason for this is the tribe is afraid that uttering
the dead man?s name will disturb and annoy his spirit. Furthermore, if
a dead man hears his name his spirit will think that his people are
not mourning him properly and he will haunt them in their sleep.
In addition, to not speaking the dead man?s name, the entire tribe is
prohibited from visiting his grave ? until the ceremony of
Urpmilchima, which takes place during the second phase of mourning.
Other forms of mourning, which are completed by the entire tribe
include the tribe?s people inflicting bodily harm on themselves to
show that they are in mourning. For example, the Gammona of the
deceased, which are the single men of the tribe that are eligible to
marry the dead man?s daughter ? cut themselves on the shoulder when
their possible father-in law or Ikuntera dies. In fact ? every man
bears on his shoulders the raised scars that remain to show that he
has properly mourned his Ikuntera. Women and other men of the tribe
may also inflict wounds on their bodies to show that they are in
Mourning for loss of tradition depicted in art:
" French artist Gauguin lived in Tahiti in the late nineteenth
century, his painting Nevermore poignantly recorded, like carbon
dating, the mourning of the Polynesian people for a world passed, a
way of life lost forever by the arrival of the white man in the
Please let me know if you would like more information or clarifications.
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