Burial - Pukumani, Tiwi Islands

For the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands, Pukumani means taboo and applies to the funeral ceremonies, the possessions of the deceased, the close relatives of the deceased and the gravesite.

Pukumani Poles from the Tiwi Islands

Carl Bento © Australian Museum

"Purukaparli made a big Pukumani ceremony for his dead son. Now we Tiwi people have Pukumani ceremony all dressed and painted up for any deceased person. We also sing and dance for them"

Pedro Wonaeamirri

Following the instructions of their great ancestor, Purukaparli, the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands (off the north coast of Arnhem Land) honour the dead through the Pukumani ceremonies carried out around carved and painted grave posts.

The performance of the Pukumani ceremonies ensures that the spirit will find its way to the spirit world where it will dwell forever. Today these rituals also include many Christian elements.

The burial ceremony is organised by the head mourner who, along with all the other mourners, is adorned with white paint. Some of the belongings of the deceased are placed on the grave.

Carvers are commissioned to carve and paint the elaborate tutini (grave posts) that are erected around the mounded grave. As many as 12 tutini are made and displayed in an area being used for the Pukumani ceremony.

The Pukumani ceremony takes place two to six months after the burial and can last for a few days. Dancers circle around and through the formation of the tutini and to mark the end of the ceremony, Tunga, or painted bark baskets, are placed on top of the posts. The burial Pukumani poles are gifts to please the spirits of the dead. They are placed around the grave and left to decay.


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Tags Death Online, burial, disposing of the dead, Tiwi, Bathurst Island, Melville Island, northern Australia,