Getting to Know Helaehili, a Way to Remember the Deceased


There are many ways to express feelings when someone is sad or happy. Even for some community groups, there is a special tradition to express grief when a loved one passes away. The Sentani people have their own tradition called helaehili,

It is very interesting to study helaehili Indonesia or helaehili in English because many positives can be taken from this tradition.

What is Helaehili?

You are maybe curious about the helehili meaning for the people of Sentani, West Papua. Helaehili, or lamentation tradition, is one of the people’s customs to mourn those who have died.

The form is an oral poem, which tells what a person who has died looks like during their lifetime. This tradition is generally carried out when the body has yet to be buried.

The words in this poem are included in the oral category because people convey them spontaneously, orally, and without using notes. That person does not prepare the words they will convey.

The person who will do helaehili prepares the grand outline and storyline in his/her mind only.

To show beautiful and meaningful helaehili,  the person who will deliver it during the mourning procession must master many vocabulary and phrases. These words and phrases come from themselves or words that the parties have prepared for them to assemble their lyrics.

When a family mourns, the surrounding community will come to show solidarity and do mutual assistance to help the deceased’s family. This helaehili chant can also be a means to provide entertainment for grieving families and those who feel grieving.

The chant is also a means of giving a message to the living to imitate the nature of the deceased.

Because it is one way to comfort a grieving family, as a reminder and honor the deceased, the chant’s contents are about the deceased’s good deeds.

Some of the good deeds of the deceased that often enter the helaehili are about his friendly, helpful, patient nature, and so on.

His skill in a field is also included in the chant, such as great in hunting, gardening, and cooking. manage the household, catch fish, or clear agricultural land.

The One Who Chanted Helaehili

In general, people who do helaehili are close relatives or close to the deceased.

Usually, people who have this ability are the older generation because the speech is spontaneous and not engineered. This also makes these helaehili increasingly found because the number of the older generation is decreasing.

The duration of the chant also varies, ranging from a matter of hours to three days and three nights. It depends on the social status, the person who can sing, and the good deeds or services of the deceased person.

The recitation language is not the usual language they use every day in Sentani, but “internal language,” or a language that uses a lot of symbols, parables, and figures of speech. That aspect also makes the tradition rare because the successors rarely use the Sentani language and do not understand the procedures.

Helaehili function

Some of the functions of helaehili include:

  1. Educational media because it teaches about harmony, hard work, cooperation, self-respect, obedience to existence, mutual respect, protecting the environment, and being proud of the hometown.
  2. Reflecting on the dreams of the Sentani people, which are related to leaders, traditional servants, villages, and ideal communities.
  3. Ratification of cultural and customary institutions, namely as a standard for each generation regarding handling when problems come.
  4. Community facilities for socializing.
  5. Supervisor and enforcer of customary and social norms.
  6. Trust and emotion booster.
  7. Media entertainment for families and communities.


Helaehili is one of the last forms of respect for the deceased and can be a means of entertainment and learning for families and communities. Seeing its function that is very helpful for life, it is really sad if this tradition is starting to be left.