7-4 Funeral Rites Part 3: Feast for the Dead Man

After the funeral, there is a five or ten day mourning period. During this time, no one is allowed to work or leave the village. The men all sleep at the nakamal or in the house of the dead man and the women sleep with family in the village or in the house of the dead man. Though you can go out for a walk during the day, you have to be back at night.

Because of the subsistence farming lifestyle, it is impossible to completely ban work and still eat. The rule is that you can go to the garden and get food, but you can’t work in the garden. No planting, no weeding, nothing. Just go and get your food and come back. Because I lot of the gardens for Vansemakul are several hours’ walk south, we mostly ate breadfruit from the trees near the village and rice from the store.

Every night, the men drink kava in the nakamal. Not that that is different than usual, what was different was the number of men. A normal night in the nakamal at Vansemakul will have eight to ten men grinding kava. The first night there was twenty and by the last night there was thirty. There was a lot of kava.

During the ten days, no one in the village is supposed to eat coconut milk, though a lot of people do anyway. The first day, no one eats it but after that, it seems to get a little relaxed. Depending on who I asked, the ban on coconut milk was either village wide or limited to the people staying at the nakamal and at the house, or was village wide. We didn’t eat coconut milk.

A less charming part of kastom is a ban on bathing or swimming. During the mourning period, the family and the people staying with the family are not allowed to bathe or go swimming. Keep in mind, a normal day here is somewhere around 85 degrees and humid. It was getting a little rank towards the end of that ten days.

The immediate family of the deceased can choose to give up something to show their mourning. They don’t cut their hair or beard or will give up a favorite food of the deceased. That can go on for anywhere from one-hundred days to a couple of years. When the individual is ready to let go of their mourning, they ask one of their family members to come cut their hair or make that food. The person releasing their mourning gives a red mat to the person who comes to do it. For example, if the daughter of the deceased gives up laplap manioc, she won’t eat that for a year or more. When she is ready to let go of that part of her mourning, she tells one of her family members to make laplap manioc. They bring the laplap to her house and she gives them a red mat.

I like the kastom that really acknowledges the loss to the community and the family. The way they grieve is intense and very different from our Western quiet crying and private mourning, but in many ways it seems a lot healthier. They show that grief and in their grieving, they receive support from the community. At the end of the mourning period, the grief is over. The person isn’t forgotten, but the family can move on with their lives. I like it.

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