Kiribati Skull Burial

by M-Rebeiro

The widow or child of the deceased would sleep and eat beside the skull and carry it about on all occasions. After several years it would be reburied with the body or planted in their yard with the top of the skull sticking out of the ground.

The Kiribati people practice mostly Christian burial customs due to the presence of missionaries in that area in the 19th century. The nation, which is comprised of 32 atolls and one raised coral island and is spread out over several million square kilometers along the equator and near the International Date Line, has its own distinct culture. One facet of this unique culture is the way they handle death, particularly the body.

After death, the deceased is laid out in the home for at least 3 days, longer if the deceased was prominent in life. Several months after burial, the body was exhumed and the skull was removed. After oiling and polishing the skull as well as laying out offerings of food and tobacco, the skull was typically kept on a shelf while the remainder of the body was returned to the Earth.

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