Last Wednesday, Hoax’s mother passed away. Though we didn’t know her any better than to say “hello,” we certainly know Hoax and wanted to express our sympathy. Doing that here is a little different than in America. In PNG there are cultural traditions, expectations and even demands beyond what we are used to.

In order to fit in culturally, we took Hoax and his family some food (a bag of rice, a bag of salt and a loaf of bread) and some money. This is called “bringing sorry.” According to the PNGians the gifts lessen the sadness of losing a family member, so we brought them in order to behave in a culturally appropriate way even though it was foreign to us.

Following this tradition seemed impersonal and even insensitive to me since it didn’t have any emotional connection to the loss of a loved one. However Hoax and Margaret were thrilled that we had brought the right things. They were so appreciative that we had payed attention to their culture and followed their tradition. I realized that, though it seemed odd to me, these acts were not just a ritual, but actually the way they express their sympathy. While it’s easy to think this custom is less sincere than our own, in practice it seemed equally so. It was our way of letting them know that we care about them and feel bad for their loss.

The picture above is above is from Friday–two days after Hoax’s mom died and one day before she was buried. I took the picture inside her house which had been decorated with blouses and dresses by family and friends. And that is the coffin in the back.

Read Funeral Part 2

  1. Katie

    I don’t know, bringing food seems rather familiar to me. Maybe we aren’t so different after all.

    • Joseph

      You’re right Katie. I thought about that while I was writing the post, but I realized what made it seem so different is that we aren’t used to taking someone ingredients that they would stock their pantry with. I wonder what would have happened if we had taken a casserole or a party platter.

  2. Ashley

    The body stays in the home until burial? What do PNG’s believe in general about life after death?

    • Joseph

      For the most part, the citizens around us believe in a mix of Christianity and traditional animistic beliefs. Different people combine these two differently, so it is tough to generalize. Many believe that the spirits of their ancestors play an active roll in life though.

What do you think?