For the Torres Strait Islanders, death is something that is not taken lightly. The people of this indigenous community do not fear death; however, the death of friends and family members brings extreme grief, just as it does with any other society. In some ways the Torres Strait Islander’s death ceremonies are no different than ours, they mainly consist of a burial and a mourning period. Although there are some similarities, there are many more differences.
When a person dies in the Torres Strait Islands, it becomes a community event. After the death of an Islander, it is not just the close family and friends that attend the ceremony, the whole community usually gets involved. It is common for the entire community to feel distress, which seems different than the U.S. because usually if we do not know the person who passed or their family, we don’t really give it much thought. The Islanders believe that if there is not a proper ceremony and burial, the spirit of the deceased can come back and cause harm to the community. This is the last thing that the Islanders want, so they make sure to do everything properly. Following the death of a loved one, there are generally two stages to the burial; the primary burial and the secondary burial. The primary burial is when the body is left to decompose for several months. The secondary burial is when the leftover bones are gathered, painted, and scattered. There are many different ways in which the Islanders perform the second stage. For example, some people decide to leave the bones in a cave, others decide to place the bones in a hollowed out log. It has even been said that sometimes family members carry some of the bones around with them for years after the burial.
The burial is only a small portion of the ceremonies following a death. Many people cover their bodies in white paint and sing songs and dance. It is also normal for people to cut themselves to show sympathy and remorse for the deceased. These actions are done to make sure that the spirit leaves and does not come back to cause harm to the community. One of the more extreme practices is when the head of the body is removed and carried by the wife during her mourning period. Also, the head is sometimes carried around by the wife during her mourning period. They have found rock art that these ceremonies have been taking place for tens of thousands of years.
Death is a very serious matter among the indigenous, as well as almost every other society. Just like it is...