Pacific turns to China as economies sink
Toroama whacks mining companies & compradors

PNG’s mercenary funerary rituals

Wapenamanda burial (Barry Taverner)
Wife of deceased sits atop his body at Wapenamanda mourning , late 1960s (Barry Taverner)


WABAG – One of the many rare photographs in my new book, 'Victory Song of Pingeta's Daughter', is an image of an elderly woman sitting on the wrapped body of a warrior killed in tribal war that has been hung on a pole.

Below the body and her, other women mourn. How she climbed on to the pole, I do not know.

There are no signs of men. They are all away fighting.

The photo was supplied to me by kiap Barry Taverner who served in Wapenamanda in Enga Province in the late 1960s. He also provided photos of warriors bearing with bows and arrows and the corpse of a just killed man lying on the ground.

These days, many more men, sometimes over 200, are killed during a single tribal war involving high powered guns. Explosives have been used too in some parts of the highlands.

Each body is mourned, speeches are delivered and much cash, food (including cartons upon cartons of Coke), lamb flaps, live pigs and garden produce is heaped up.

So much wealth is generated by the death of that one person.

Politicians are always expected to contribute more cash. If they contribute less, they will be ridiculed. Votes will go to somebody else at the next election.

More wealth will be generated when final compensation is negotiated by both warring tribes.

More speeches will be exchanged. More time will be consumed talking and negotiating to reach an agreement.

Kiap Barry Taverner intervening to stop a tribal war in Enga  late 1960s (Barry Taverner)
Engan leader and later deputy prime minister of PNG Tei Abal and kiap Barry Taverner intervene to stop a tribal war in Enga,  late 1960s (Barry Taverner)

And often, more arguments between relatives of the deceased will erupt over who should have which pig or receive how much cash.

Sometimes violent deaths occur. More mourning, more killing, more destruction.

It’s a common sight to see bodies received at airports with much frenzy - shouting, wailing, horns blaring, much noise....

In a long convoy, the body is driven home where a special burial place has been prepared for the coffin.

More contributions of cash and kind. More wailing, speeches, distribution of cash and food, and arguments between relatives. The circle seems endless.

Modern haus krais have become a wealth generating venture.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Daniel Kumbon Jnr

I'm really encouraged by my dad, Daniel Kumbon Snr, to join this group and enrich my writing and learning from you all posters who are involved here. However, I don t know how i can post my articles and become a member here.

I've let Daniel Jr know how to get in touch with PNG Attitude - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

There were a couple of widow's detached fingers in the freezer compartment of the fridge in the Sub-District Office in Mount Hagen when I arrived there in 1967. Apparently they were evidence. Each one was neatly bound and mounted on a small stick.

On one occasion I spoke to a woman who had cut off part of her right index finger. She was sitting calmly holding the bloody finger upright for me to see.

The most uncomfortable event I witnessed was when a grieving widow, unable to find a sharp knife, simply mashed the end of her finger with a rock.

AG Satori

Sorry KJ it is not missionary conversion but Miso concoction - that Baka Bina referred to. A numbing drink the grieving woman would consume to make her numb before the gory act of cutting off the finger.

Now fixed on your original comment, AG. Gimme a Misso conversion ahead of the Miso concoction any day - KJ

AG Satori

Funeral rituals differ from province to province and in different cultures. he picture of the woman sitting on top of the traditional coffin gives thought that this woman may have been the favourites wife.

What is it like in other places? Baka Bina in his 'Cry Me a River' stories (now published as a book 'Tales From Faif') mentioned the gruesome tradition of lopping off a finger by a woman over her lost loved one - be it a husband or child.

I think he makes references to this Eastern Highlands' culture in one of his earlier books too.

How the heck does one get a Miso concoction - a drink of some sorts that the grieving woman would consume to make her numb before the gory act of lopping off a finger happened.

There may still be some old folks alive with a lopped finger and it would be interesting to know how that was done.

The burial in the caves in Morobe Province is another funeral and interment process. Another Eastern Highlands tradition is burning the dead. Can someone relate this experience?

More on 'Tales from Faif' by Baka Bina here:

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)