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The natives of Torres Strait live on the islands in northern Queensland. From a cultural perspective, they are closer to the indigenous peoples of the regions of Papua New Guinea than those of Australia.

The Aboriginal peoples believe that living on earth is a chance, and the spirits of the ancients, springing from earth and heaven, are the creators of all living beings.

Death is a continuity, a new stage. Before being authorized to return to the «Ancestors of his Dream», the deceased’s soul has to receive a ceremony marked by various rites according to the tribes and the region.

Man dressed for the dance of death

Natural death is accepted only for children. The adults never die of natural death, except in case of murder or death in battle. They believe that death comes from a sorcerer’s work. At funerals, the mourners sing by insulting and cursing the enemy at the death’s origin.

The preservation of the corpse by exposure to the sun or by fumigation (or even by slow cooking) are widespread from the Torres Strait region in Queensland, in the north, to the state of Victoria, in the south.

They also practice burial, the cremation and place the corpses on platforms in the trees or the trunks of hollow trees. At the funeral, they make offerings and then throw out the objects that belonged to the deceased.

As a sign of mourning, they can rub the body and the hair with gypsum or clay. They observe strict rules during the mourning period, including the silence for the widows and the prohibition on pronouncing the deceased’s name.

Man in traditional dress, 1905
Funeral meal, 1928
Men in traditional dress, 1921

The skull is considered the permanent seat of the soul, and they thus preserve those of their family and enemies. A skull possessor is considered the master of all his psychic activities, his courage, love, hatred, the pride.

Later they practice on these skulls magical and religious rites.

Through the skull of an enemy warrior, they can neutralize the vengeance of a spirit. The skull of a friendly warrior brings them protection, assistance, and advice. A parent’s skull helps them to appease anger and obtain favors.

On Murray Island, during the annual dance of death, men wear masks and cover their bodies with coconut leaves dance with a bow and an arrow, intending to imitate the steps and the attitudes of the recently deceased persons.

Skull from Murray Island

The women are not allowed to perform this sacred ceremony, so they cannot impersonate the dead women. This role falls again to the men, for that occasion they wear women’s clothing, hold a broom in their hands and hide their faces with a leaf cap.

The women, seated further, try to recognize the personified individuals and whisper through the tears and lamentation cries, « This is my husband! » or « Oh, my son! » depending on their relationship with the deceased.

Funeral buffoon

Usually, there is a certain form of joy that accompanies the funerals. They invite a masked buffoon, who «plays the fool» behind the other participants.

Usually, the buffoon wears a sophisticated headdress decorated with a long net of feathers. On his chest, he wears two crossed shoulder straps and shell ornament, a fringed belt around his waist, and ornamental bands on his legs.

On some islands, authors mention the possibility of the practice of funerary cannibalism: the child’s body can thus be eaten by members of his family: mother, father, brothers, and sisters.

Men in traditional dress

Sources :

Wikipédia, Indigènes du détroit de Torrès


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




Ethnological studies among the northwest-central Queensland aborigines by W. E. Roth 


Torres Straits, Reports of the Cambridge anthropological Expedition, Sociology, Magic and Religion of the Eastern Islanders


Marcel MAUSS, L’expression obligatoire des sentiments


Alfred C. Haddon, Head-Hunters, Black, white and brown

Bruno Boulestin, Pourquoi donc tous ces chasseurs-cueilleurs font-ils des tombes doubles 


Spiritualité Autochtone