Oct 2009 - Issue 13

Oct 2009 - Issue 13 My experience of a villagers death in a Papua New Guinea Village


My first inkling that the week was about to take on a new direction. Our “cousin” who was a middle-aged father of two teenagers had died during the night at Rumginae Hospital (from an illness, kidney failure).

Word arrived in our village via a truck that had been contacted via radio. Being a close relative of everyone in the village, the place just stopped: no more translation work, no going to the garden or to work. Everyone gathered in small groups, talking about what was going to happen, watching the dramas unfold.

What do you expect is the number one emotion following a death? Throw away your expectations from a NZ community. Immediately fear rose up in the people I was with. The deceased's brother was drinking last night, and he could get violent. Word came from the next village where uncles live, saying that they were not happy. Maybe that means there will be violent revenge?

Jennifer’s mother had a dispute with his family two days previously over some sago palms we cut, that one of the brothers claimed was his. People will surely talk and blame her for his death.

You see, they believe every death has a sinister cause. The wife or the community did not look after him properly, or someone was angry with him and did sorcery on him. They must be held accountable.

I was part of the throng that gathered to witness the body being brought back to his house. Some ladies were pacing up and down: wailing, calling their relationship to him, telling of his life. A shelter was erected outside to accommodate the many visitors who would come and sit and mourn. Sorry I took no photos of all this - I wasn't sure how the crowd would interpret it.

I was there when the first demand came. A pastor of a nearby village, a relative, demanded 1000 Kina to be paid to him. Others came wielding bows and arrows, and slashed down the shelter with bush knives to punctuate their demands. After two days the total came to 29,000Kina ($15,000NZ) that the community had to pay to various relatives of the deceased.

It is compensation, really. Money paid settle a wrong, to avoid a payback killing of someone in the community.

How about these for official announcements around the house in mourning? “If you want to ‘talk’ (account blame), do it peacefully. No destroying things,” or “Don't go around by yourself. The killers may be around because they heard the wailing.” The dead man’s spirit and the invisible killers who did the deed are also to be feared.

Maybe you’re wondering if the fellow who died was a Christian. Everyone says he wasn't. His wife is a Christian, and her brother the principal of the Rumginae Bible School. Anyway, Christian or not seems to make little difference to many deaths. Andy’s mother (who I stay with) is Pastor Sanibai’s widow and many close family on both sides are Christians and pastors.

Samibai’s death was accompanied by much “talk” (blaming people) and thousands of kina compensation. By the third day, enough money was collected that they were allowed to dig the grave. A public meeting at the house negotiated who would get money now, and who would get it later. As soon as an agreement was reached, the same crowd attended short service then the body was buried.

Next weekend will be the meeting of all the Dande community to talk about who caused the death. It may include attempts to consult with the dead man’s spirit, or just be calling each person to talk-out their grievances or defend their relationship with him. I’m told that nothing in particular is demanded of the people eventually blamed, although there is much shame and I have heard of one recent suicide from this situation. This talking-out is thought to then prevent another death happening soon in the community.

I appreciated being accepted as part of the crowd and a member of the community, and not particularly stared at. I was surprised how obvious was their thinking that spirits are in control of death, not God. I was most excited to be asked to come and share a week later in the house of the deceased's elder brother and his two wives. I spoke about where death comes from and how God is in control of it (Jennifer translated). I spoke against fault-finding. Then we showed a DVD of a tribe in Indonesia with very similar ideas, which was changed by God. Looking after our own relationship with God is the best way to prevent death without hope! People were very interested and some want to see it again.

Mid-sentence verbs

I finally have paid some attention to some strange words in the middle of Aekyom sentences and have found out some of them are verbs that I already know in a different form. They just have very different suffixes.

Here's some variations of the verb to eat: dra, drai, de, dewi, diri, daewi, dwerakrai.

I'm beginning to understand some language notes left by another missionary and this has really helped my understanding. Now to learn to use these verbs properly...

Prayer & Praise

  • Thank God for ending the power of death and pray that Dande will see this truth.
  • Thank God for my growing relationships with Aekyom people.
  • Pray for more opportunities and ability to explain my lack of fear.
  • Pray for great strides ahead in language
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