Mourning - Oro Province, Papua New Guinea

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.

Widow in pipeclay mourning

 © Australian Museum Archives

Go now to a good place, not an evil one; go to the road of the sunshine, not the road of the rains; go where there are neither mosquitoes nor march-flies, but where there are pigs in plenty and taro in plenty...and we shall make a feast in your honour, and payment to those who have mourned you. A man from Oro Province as quoted in F E Williams, Orokaiva Society, 1930

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 mourning.

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.


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