A Look Into the Lani Tribe’s Funeral Rites of West Papua

funeral rites of West Papua

In carrying out the Lani death ceremony, prehistoric beliefs are still strong. It is reflected in the belief in ancestral spirits. The religious meaning of the funeral rites of West Papua is to help the deceased’s confidence so that he can go to the spirit world properly.

A Look Into the Lani Tribe's Funeral Rites of West Papua

The Lani tribe, who live in the western part of the Baliem Valley, know the traditional burial system of burning (cremation). All residents of the Baliem Valley typically handle dead bodies by cremation. It applies to people who die from old age, illness, or death.

The Death Tradition of the Lani tribe

The funeral rites of West Papua, the process and stages of burning corpses, are still ongoing for the Lani tribe in Central Mamberamo.

The Cremation Procession of funeral rites of West Papua

  1. The procession of burning corpses is the preparation of firewood from the casuarina tree species. 
  2. Digging a hole to a depth of around one meter will serve as a grave for the corpse’s ashes.
  3. Near the excavated pit, the firewood is stacked in a rectangular pattern.
  4. They placed the bodies in a sitting position on a wood pile. 
  5. Then pieces of wood are arranged on top of the corpse so that the corpse is no longer visible. 
  6. Then the cremation was carried out. 
  7. They used the top of the firewood stack to start the cremation fire.

The Lani tribe collects the bones from the burning remains when the corpse burns. Ash and bones are inserted into the holes prepared in advance. For the Kelila District area, they placed a stone as a marker on the grave.

The Lani Tribe Still Performs Prehistoric Funeral Rites of West Papua

The Lani Tribe in Papua’s Kelila District, Central Mamberamo Regency, continues the practice of ancient burials. “The archaeological research in Kelila District was held in the middle of last year (2014), held a seminar last December, and has just been disseminated,” said Hari Suroto, research staff from the Jayapura Archeology Center in Jayapura City.

The prehistoric funeral rites of West Papua tradition begin with burning the corpse. Before burning, a party to cook pork by burning stones is held. “The number of pigs killed is directly a measure of how important the person who died was,” he said.

He explained that the Lani tribe expresses mourning for a relative’s death in Central Mamberamo, usually in an unusual way. They cut one of the joints of the female fingers using a stone axe. “They believe that the spirits of the deceased will appreciate the pain they suffered or their grief,” he said.  

Final Takeaway

In carrying out the Lani death ceremony, prehistoric beliefs are still strong. It is reflected in the belief in ancestral spirits. The religious meaning of the funeral rites of West Papua is to help the deceased’s soul so that he can go to the spirit world properly. 

This death ceremony is intended to maintain the balance of the cosmos. It is expected to provide safety for both the spirit of the dead and the humans left behind.

According to Turner in the book Ritual Process: Structure and Anti Structure (1974), the ceremony that demands victims is central in simple community religion. In principle, all faiths in this world have their symbols. A symbol does not have a universal value and position but is limited in the religious system and community.