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The Melanesians indigenous come from Asia and are the descendants of the Austronesian people and the first Papuans. The Melanesian territory includes Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji.

For the Solomonians, the skull is the seat of vital energy.

Apart from that vital energy, the human possesses another spirit, which after death, continues to live in other places and can return to help or harm his community.

Decorated skull

For them, death is not an end but a transition step. The defunct continues to reflect his presence in a different way than manifests the living people.

For this reason, the notion of death is relative, and the deceased does not stop existing but continues to be solicited and maintain ties with the community.

For the survival of the group, it is essential to maintain good relations with the deceased. For that, they use various objects and celebrate special ceremonies. For example, the rings and the shell ornaments serve as the link between the earthly world and the spirit world.

The ancestor is indispensable for the success of all the actions: hunting, war, female fertility, and agriculture. The Melanesian people of the Solomon Islands, like Amerindians and peoples of Africa, consider death an abnormal and non-natural phenomenon.

The funeral rites are complex, and the goal is to allow the deceased to reach the protective ancestor status. That is possible through the preservation of his skull. Thus the skull becomes a tangible part of an intangible body and serves, like in many cultures, as a bridge to the afterlife.

For the Goun and Fon peoples from Africa, the skull plays an important role: after specific prayers, it is put in a bag, then hung on the wall or in a pot, and kept for roughly a year. Afterward, it is exposed and honored, before the final and secret burial.

The Apaches consider the body and the skull, in particular, as a source of danger.

The Ache-Guayaki people of South America honor the skull too. After a certain period, when the corpse is sufficiently decomposed, they extract the skull by avoiding touching it directly. After that, the skull is deposited on the ground, broken with bows, and burnt.

Aboriginal people around a boat

For the natives of the Solomon Islands, the funeral rites vary from one island to another. In Bougainville, the corpses are burned. In Guadalcanal and San Cristobal, they are wrapped in mats and thrown into the sea.

In Marau, they place the dead person in his canoe and tie the whole to a tree. After the body’s decomposition, the skull is transported in a wooden skull house or placed under a pile of stones. A skull house usually contains one to two skulls and is surrounded by the defunct’s weapons, opened coconuts, and cooked yam tubercles, to feed his spirit.

The women’s bodies, considered less important, are buried in various places or thrown into the water.

In Malaita, the corpse is kept overnight in the hut. The next day, it is buried behind the taboo hut (relics mausoleum) or in his home. Later, they place the skull in a skull basket and transfer them to the taboo hut. A new celebration is organized on this occasion.

The women’s bodies are buried on the coast of the island, their skulls are not placed in the taboo hut. When a woman dies and leaves behind an infant, this one is killed by hitting the head on a stone.

In Malaita, they may start the ceremonies by burying the corpse in the sand for about a hundred days. Later the skull is collected, cleaned, wrapped, and placed in the taboo hut. The body is thrown in a dump of taboo garbage, sacred and forbidden.

Celebration jewellery

In the southeastern islands, the fishermen’s tribes fish the defunct’s spirit with a small line. Then they deposit the soul and the skull in a box and place it in one of the house’s corners.

On Santa Anna Island, they keep the skulls in large wooden containers carved in the shape of a shark and placed in the taboo hut (inversed, where the day becomes night).
In Melanesia, they perceive that taboo hut, dedicated to the ancestors, in opposition to the huts of the living. In their belief, those two worlds are simultaneously separated and connected.

In New Georgia, they put the body in the hut on a stretcher. During the night vigil, they play on long bamboo flutes. The next day the corpse is placed in the corals, in a kneeling position. Next to the body, they lay down the fishing gear, his weapons, and ornaments.

In some villages, the corpse is placed in the bush, standing between sticks stuck in the ground. They keep up the head suspended with a wooden fork. Later the skull is transported in a small skull hut or a cave.

Inhabitants of the Solomon Islands

For the deceased owning a high social status, the process of final skull elevation happens fast. For the chiefs, they wait a week maximum. The funeral represents the occasion for ritual feasts with pig’s consumption and exchange of valuables.

They bury the women’s bodies in the forest.

The chiefs’ wives are the only ones entitled to the same treatment as their deceased husbands.

During the mourning period they let grow their hair and their beard. The widow has to retire and grieve for a hundred days in isolation. Later, she may remarry, but that usually can provoke disagreements because the second husband’s family may be accused of being at the origin of the first husband death.

The funeral chants and the ceremonial lamentations are of great importance and may last several days. They commemorate almost every year the death anniversary with dances and sacrifices.

The Dayaks, indigenous peoples of the Borneo Islands, go to war to acquire heads. For the funeral rites of a deceased parent or leader, the presence of heads is required. Without that, the burial cannot take place.

Sometimes, they keep the war’s prisoners, to use later, their heads for ceremonies such as the launch of a new canoe or the funeral.

Sources:

(https://casoar.org)

Eugène Paravicini, Rites funéraires et culte des cranes aux Iles Salomon 

(https://www.persee.fr)

Philippe Bourgoin, Art tribal 

(https://philippebourgoinarttribal.com)

Félix Speiser, Les mégalithes dans le Pacifique

(https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki)

Claire Laux, La mort et la ville en Océanie 

(https://journals.openedition.org)

Glory, R. Robert, Le culte des crânes humains aux époques préhistoriques 

(https://www.persee.fr/doc)

(https://www.peuplesdumonde)

(https://pacifique-a-la-carte.com)

Spiritualité Autochtone