7-4 Funeral Rites Part 2: Burial
The burial happens in the afternoon of the second day. By that time, the pile of mats was almost waist high. They wrap the body in red mats and some of the mats or calicos that were brought. The entire package is about knee high and covered in flowers. They loop more pieces of fabric under it to act as handles and carry the whole thing to the church. I think there is an order or hierarchy to who carries it, since the men seem to rotate in and out, especially if they have a longer distance between the house and the church or the church and the grave.
There is a sermon and eulogy type thing at the church. I understood most of it, since the priest did it in Bislama. He said some nice things and there was more praying and singing. Then the men lifted the “casket” again and carried it down to the grave.
The grave itself is probably close to six feet deep, but the bottom is lined with coconut leaves and a mat. A layer of coconut leaves under a mat is a standard bed here. They make a point to get plenty of leaves in the grave to give it a little spring. The walls of the grave are studded with flowers and lined with more coconut leaves. On top of the grave, they put braces to hold the “casket” while the final words are said.
This is a French Catholic area so they follow Catholic burials. There was holy water and prayers in French which I didn’t understand. When the final prayers were said, half the men lifted the casket one more time while the other half pulled out the braces. They lowered it down by hand and immediately started filling the hole back in.
In our village, they timed the burial to happen with the sunset. As the last of the dirt went in, it was getting dark enough to think about needing a flashlight to get back to the house. The grave was decorated with more flowers and lots of heavy rocks and we all went back to the house or the nakamal.