Pada Kuik are traditional language words in the dialect of Kala Lagaw Ya from the Western Islands. When translated into English they mean the skull.
After death, a person entered the spirit world. Because the people believed that the spirit world had a strong control over the natural world, it was important that they remained in favour with the departed. Spirits were called upon and pleaded with to assist with the successful conclusion with many activities and ventures, and were often asked to help increase food supplies. Some men in the community were considered to have special powers that enabled them to contact the spirits.
Funeral and annual commemoration ceremonies for the dead were regarded as very important events. The Meriam practised a method of preserving bodies by drying them [desiccation], while the Western Islander’s had a ritual placement of the body on a burial platform. Upon death, very old and very young people were usually excluded from full rituals, as were females and those of low status.
Death brought obligations to some; to others, fear of retribution from the ghost and relatives of the deceased. The whole community was involved in ritualistic mourning and preparation of the body for disposal or preservation, although specified people had key roles. Amongst the Meriam, preservation techniques were technically complex and can be compared with those of ancient Egypt. Similar ritualistic ceremonies surround Christian burials and tombstone openings today in the Torres Strait Islands.
Photo: Michael Marzik.