Haus Krai and the mourning process in Bougainville is deeply traditional, with each village, tribe and constituency having slightly different customs (kastom) and ‘steps’ towards healing and laying a loved one to rest.
The Bougainville Copper media team was visiting Dapera village in Panguna, when we saw a large sculpture in the village, resembling a giant tepee, with lots of bananas, buai nuts, coconuts and taro attached to it. Walking towards the sculpture, we saw a busload of people with garden vegetables with bags of taro, kau kau and potatoes, singing, laughing and wearing black and white, had pulled in to the closed off area where the tower was built.
As the women and children were exiting the bus, still singing, we witnessed water being thrown from bottles, much to everyone’s delight, followed by lots of laughter. Curiosity got the better of us, as we approached the women to ask about the song.
“We call it sing sing Siriroi. It was a traditional song about the birds hunting the fish, and during the singing we make jokes and mock each other within the song,” one of the women said.
“The water was part of a water welcoming ceremony. New people who come into the community are watered with herbed water, which usually includes lemongrass, ginger, whatever herbs we have growing in our gardens,”
We were then brought further in to the area, and greeted by the family whose son was being celebrated one last time.
In Dapera village, there are three stages of kastom when laying a loved one to rest. The first stage is to clean all the rubbish out of the house, as well as cleaning all belongings and preparing the garden, ensuring the soil is prepared for new vegetables to be planted. This washes away the sadness, clearing the space, which in turn clears the mind, making way for a fresh start.
The second stage involves the family coming to discuss the planning of the feast. Each family member has a role to play in growing the garden food. The menu is planned and the garden is prepared. Another part of the kastom is to grow out your hair and form dreadlocks. It is a symbolic gesture in the Nasioi culture that shows one is still in mourning over their love ones or family members. It can go on for about a year or longer – until they are ready to let go.
Finally, the third stage is feasting. Once all the garden vegetables are ripened and ready for harvest, the family will come together again, and build a sculpture stacking it high with what they have grown, and what they have purchased from the markets for a celebration of the deceased’s life. The pigs that have been fed and nurtured for approximately a year are used to feed and celebrate the life of the departed. This is followed by a sing sing, the family members cutting off their rastas with the belongings of the deceased burnt with the ashes rise to the heavens. This is another symbolic action, as the deceased is given to god and their ancestors.
The celebration of life will continue for one night of joy as the family completes the mourning process, with the body and soul of the departed finally laid to an eternal rest with loved ones ready to let them go.