Tataro From West Papua: A Prayer to Ask the Dead Ancestors for Benefits


Meta Description: Melanesians Of West Papua Have Rituals That Can Make Connections To The Dead. Tataro, A Form Of Prayer, Is Able To Make That Connection. 

Slug: TataroWest-Papua-Prayer-Ask-Dead-Ancestors-Benefits

Melanesians, the inhabitants of West Papua, are rich in history. Melanesians are known for their secret societies and their communion with the dead in their history. It is difficult to classify the rites as religion or magic. In this article, I am going to talk about some Melanesian religious rites. One of them is in the form of Tataro, a prayer to ask the dead ancestors for benefits. 

Tamate societies and the communion with the dead

According to Rivers (2017), Melanesians’ rites are often associated with the dead. One can make a connection with the dead through some ritual. Secret societies or Tamate societies have a ritual that connects their members to the spirit of ghosts.

The religious aspect of Tamate societies reaches its intense moment at the beginning of the rites but would then decrease in strength and reality. Tamate used masks and hats in their rites as a symbol of the ghost. Then the chief will have communion with the ghost. The beginning of the rite is not only about the ceremonial, but it contains other meanings related to the religious aspect (Rivers, 2017). 

The Tamate societies’ rites involve death in their rites (Rivers, 2017). The beginning of the rites shows a symbol of death. However, this symbol is not even close to the actual death feature. As a result, it does not trigger certain emotions regarding death. But, other rites resemble death more accurately, and they can give the outsider experience to communion with the dead. 

Tamate societies do the ritual so the members can have communion with the higher being. The higher being is usually in the form of a ghost. But it is not always a ghost since some rites involve another being that is possibly of a higher order than a ghost. 

From the outsider’s point of view, the communion with the dead does not involve intercourse, even though it might have existed in the past. If this is so, the rites are a modified form in the past that involved an actual communion with the dead. Although the present rites do not involve actual communion with the dead, it does not mean that they do not have any significant meaning. The outsider believes in the mysterious nature of secret societies, which makes them a powerful society (Rivers, 2017). 

According to Rivers (2017), the preservation of the rite has something to do with social powers. The basis of power lies in religion. Although the beliefs are declining, the preservation of the rites continues. The belief or religion continues among the community, which results in the preservation of the ritual. There is evidence that religion plays a role in the Melanesian community.

Tataro from West Papua: a prayer to ask the dead ancestors 

Religion plays a role among Melanesians. The two obvious features of religion are prayers and offerings. Tataro is the name of the prayers for native Melanesians. This prayer works the same way and has nature like other religions (Rivers, 2017). The nature of this prayer is that one can ask the dead ancestor for certain benefits. The effectiveness of this prayer depends on its form. For example, a man can use Tataro as a prayer to connect with his deceased friend if he uses certain words.

According to Rivers (2017), Tataro is a prayer that uses the ghost of the dead and not the spirit of vui. There is no evidence that Tataro involves the connection to the spirit of vui. Even if one gives an offering to the vui, one asks and makes a connection to the dead ancestors. So, the people would address their prayers to the dead ancestors instead of vui. 

Even though the prayers do not address the vui, certain words are addressed to the vui that resemble Tataro. However, this is not regarded as Tataro since it doesn’t address the dead ancestors.

The names of the vui are Kwat and Marawa (Rivers, 2017). And it is mentioned at the beginning of Tataro. However, the value here has different meanings than the vui in stones and inanimate objects. 

In conclusion, Tataro is a prayer addressed to the dead ancestors, and not vui, which does not have any human form. This also means that Melanesians have different terms for their ghost of the dead. One of the terms used is Tataro. The word the ghost of the dead comes later after Tamate. 

Melanesians use the word Tataro in the form of words that have the power to give the desired effect (Rivers, 2017). They depend on the spirit rather than ghosts, and they would pray to the dead relatives. However, this cannot be defined as Tataro. This case shows that the word Tataro has different meanings to some parts of Melanesians. What is certain is that Tataro is about a prayer related to ghosts and not spirits. 


Melanesians in West Papua are rich in history and culture. One of Melanesian’s cultures is in the form of Tataro, a prayer to ask the dead ancestors for benefits. Through rituals, they believe they can connect with the dead when using certain words. 


Rivers, W., H. (2017). The History of Melanesian Society. CUP Archive.