In a separate review on the Aseki smoked bodies I related the rather gruesome ‘burial’ rituals of the Anga tribe in Aseki, Morobe Province. Another earlier approach, within PNG, to ‘honouring the dead’ was endocannibalism, or eating them!
Endocannibalism is differentiated from the plain old cannibalism, which was also popular in PNG and most probably still occurs. Cannibalism is the eating of someone who is specifically killed for the purpose of being eaten while endocannibalism is the ritual eating, by his or her relatives/community, of a person who has died.

Since the arrival of Christian missionaries in 1870 these and other rituals surrounding death have declined to the extent that they would now be extremely rare, if practised at all.

In Papua New Guinea, death and mourning are not the taboo subjects they are in many western societies. Mourning periods can be long and ritualistic – to the extent of self-mutilation, though this is illegal – not that that stops anything in PNG. You will, particularly outside the main cities, see female mourners, easily recognisable via their ashen or white clay smeared bodies. Goroka Market in the Eastern Highlands Province was always a good place to spot mourners. Out of respect I did not take photographs.

Deceased persons are now generally buried and coffins can be readily obtained in all sorts of places including general stores. Attached are a couple of pictures from Goroka.

Cremations, at least in the Western sense, are not popular in PNG.


The sign in my second picture, partially in English and partially in Tok Pisin, the lingua franca in a country with over 700 languages, got me wondering as ‘coffin bilong dai man’ could be translated to mean that the coffin belonged to a (previously) dead man or it was for a man yet to die! In Tok Pisin tense is derived from context.

This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on a couple of years living and working in Papua New Guinea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Get a phone connected – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Papua New Guinea – Personal Memories.

One thought on “Coffin bilong dai man

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s