After the grave-digging was completed, I followed the shovel crew to the house of mourning. Huge pots of rice had been prepared and were divided up and topped with small portions of greens mixed with Ramen noodles.

Groups of six or eight gathered around communal dishes to eat with whatever they had–most people used their hands, but I saw one lady cut a piece of bamboo to use as a spoon.

Some of the mourners smeared mud on their skin–a traditional practice.

Once the rice had been passed out, the kids were free to scrape the bottom of the dish.

After people had finished eating, the body was brought outside, washed and placed in the middle of the crowd.


Then a local religious leader stood up and led a ceremony.

With that done a few men carried the body to the grave site and everyone else followed.

Then the body was inserted into the tomb and when the plywood “door” was in place, the hole was filled.

Now that I have attended a handful of PNG funerals, some of the things that shocked me at first are beginning to seem routine. The loud wailing, the indelicate treatment of the body and the frenzy surrounding food all make more sense now. And I’m finding more similarities between the customs here and at home. Calling together relatives, gathering around food and expressing sorrow look different but are all part of the experience. There are still things that I don’t understand–largely, I think, because people don’t want to reveal the motives and beliefs behind some of their customs.

  1. How long was the entire ceremony?

    • Joseph

      If by “ceremony” you mean the guy standing and talking, I would say about an hour. If you mean the whole deal, then digging started at sun-up and the body was put in the tomb at about 5pm.

  2. Jeff Taylor

    Nothing like a comment 10 months later…..couldn’t sleep and looking thru your blog. How old was the man and what did he die of?

    • Joseph

      Jeff, people don’t celebrate birthdays or even remeber their birth year. I’m pretty bad at guessing ages because I’m used to how Americans age—life takes a different toll here. He was surely over fifty. As for the cause, it was age or sickness or both.

What do you think?