Funeral Rites Across Different Cultures: Pacific Islander Traditions

Pacific Islanders refer to those whose origins are the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific islands.  Pacific Islanders comprise a diverse number of ethnic groups, ancestries, and languages that originated in Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia.  Funeral traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific islands show that memorialization takes different forms.

Almost every Pacific Island group has a departing place where dying souls are believed to transition into the next world.  These places are commonly  situated on a high point of land or rock overlooking the sea.  While cultural traditions vary from island to island, a traditional Pacific Islander funeral service is a structured program.   The funeral service can be a multi-day event involving a ceremonial gift-giving feast.  Roasting pork is a long-standing tradition in Polynesian culture.  Mourners spend several days preparing and roasting a whole pig in an earthen oven, often alongside taro root, rice, and fruits.  Typically, a funeral service program consists of singing religious songs, musical tributes, touching reading, uplifting poems, and remembrance talks to honor the departed.  In Samoan culture, a family member is designated as the orator chief, who not only is a storyteller and funeral leader, but also is charged with notifying family and friends about the loss.  In Tonga, tapa cloth made from bark which has been softened through a process of soaking and beating, and banana leaves are a central part in covering the before it is placed in the ground. Annual remembrance of the departed, especially on special days, such as the loved one’s birthday or a traditional holiday, is an extremely important component of Pacific Islander funeral practices.

Many Pacific Islanders consider family to be their most important possession and this is reflected in the funeral rites of the islands.

Woodlawn continues to be a non-sectarian cemetery without a specific religious affiliation.