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The beauty of the haus krai

Enga mourning
Simulation of an Enga mourning ritual (Daniel Kumbon)

JOE HERMAN

SEATTLE, USA – Over the years, the haus krai [mourning rituals] concept has evolved and changed its spiritual framing.

Growing up in Enga, my first childhood experience of death was the loss of my second mother.

She had been confined in bed for several days from an illness. We had no access to medical assistance and she was unresponsive to the rituals administered.

One night she succumbed to her illness.

The message of her death was immediately disseminated by my cousin Konabi, who shouted it from a mountaintop.

Soon tens of friends and relative arrived, wailing and crying. This intense display of emotion continued through the night and into the next morning.

My mother’s body was kept inside overnight and laid on the front lawn in the morning.

The mourners held and touched her, massing around her body expressing uncontrollable emotions. I was crowded out from viewing the corpse.

In the late afternoon, men took over the proceedings. Four men carried away her corpse on a board shrouded in a laplap. The emotions intensified as we watched them walk out of sight.

She was buried witnessed by eagles hovering high above, inhaling her spirit. We remained at home and would see her burial site sometime in the near future.

During this period, we were surrounded by the clan members. They provided comfort, food and firewood for cooking.

We were present with each other. Time stood still. Men talked into the early morning.

They reminded us of the auu piiu concept, our way of life and a guard rail that governed our existence.

They reminded us to give our hearts to each other, and emphasised how the spiritual world and our daily lives were interconnected.

My family was aware that the community’s gesture would need to be reciprocated in future. The longer the grieving period, the greater the expectation. Yet, the gravity of this obligation wasn’t felt.

Being present with each other outweighed what might lie ahead. The community support eased some of the emotional sting of losing a loved one.

One of the unintended messaging from the new found Christian faith was that the dead and the living would be happily reunited eventually in heaven.

Prolonged periods of mourning, wailing, or conducting funeral ceremonies were discouraged as unChristian.

This new religion provided a different meaning and understanding of the spiritual journey.

It lessened the emotional needs and led many people to shorten the haus krai and related events.

Yet my father’s response was pira pii, let it be. The mourning rituals proceeded as they had always had been.

All gardening and other physical activity was suspended until after the mourning period had passed.

We immediately stopped using our mother’s name in fear of agitating the spirit. Instead, we referred to her as enda wambake, elderly woman, a reference of respect.

Gradually we gained sufficient emotional strength to resume gardening and other community projects. We planted some tanget in an oval pattern on the burial site.

This was both a physical reference point of her grave but also a symbolic connection between corporeal and spiritual life.

The vitality of the plant was a small reference to processing and making sense of life; a constant reminder that the spiritual and the physical world were the same in tribal life.

Several months later, as a closure, many pigs were slaughtered and the meat distributed to everyone.

We then regrouped and continued walking together until the next haus krai.

Comments

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Daniel Kumbon

Kaim - You remind me of my first experience with death as a child when my baby brother, born after me, died.

I thought he was sleeping and feared people might wake him up and poke his eyes when they held him in their hands and cried at the top of their voices.

The body was taken away in the afternoon the next day and buried somewhere. I located it many weeks later. It was buried near our garden by the Lai River.

Honestly, I had forgotten about my brother, whose name was Nuamb, over all these years until 2019 when, during the Enga Cultural Show, I took the picture accompanying Joe's story.

The lady in mourning reminded me of my own mother who rubbed mud all over her body when my brother Nuamb died all those years ago.

I relate all the precious memories in my new book 'Victory Song of Pingeta's Daughter'. Link to Phil Fitzpatrick's review here:
https://www.pngattitude.com/2020/11/epic-story-of-engas-clash-of-civilisations.html

If I hadn't attended the Enga Cultural Show in 2019, I wouldn't have recorded my childhood experiences for future generations to learn something about our rich culture.

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