Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The last mummies of Papua
"After my death, I want to be mummified," Gematsu told his children. "I have to protect you."

Gematsu is the chief of Koke, a village at 1,500 meters in the mountains of the Morobe region in Papua New Guinea. It is inhabited by members of the Angas, one of the country's 800 tribes. Mummification of the dead was a traditional custom of the Angas and was abandoned about 50 years ago upon the arrival of the first missionaries. The Angas believed that the mummies watched over them, especially those of the tribe's great warriors, which were placed on an outcrop above the village. Photographer Ulla Lohmann has visited Koke regularly since 2002, and she was with chief Gematsu for the moment which may revive the old custom. In 2005, one of the chief's granddaughters died suddenly. To Gematsu, the death of this child was a message from the ancestors. He must convince his people to resume the ritual and to restore the old mummies that were abandoned to decay. He has begun to teach his children how to go about mummification using a pig. The pig is placed on a kind of wooden scaffold, with a fire underneath constantly fed for two or three months to draw out the water and fats. Ms. Lohmann convinced Ronald G. Beckett, a professor of biomedical science from Quinnipiac University in Hamden Connecticut, to come assist the Angas in restoring dignity to their ancestors.

....The chief has resumed a conversation with [the mummy of] his father, too long interrupted. He hopes that his children will care for him with the same devotion.

Translation mine. Follow the link: the photo essay here is amazing! I've always rather fancied the idea of being mummified and put in a cliff. The western Grand Canyon would be nice, and would spare my descendants the troubles of a humid climate.


Chas S. Clifton said...

I am having fun imagining some Park Service administrator reading your proposal for mummification.

Peculiar said...

Heh. Yeah, not exactly the approach I had in mind, though it might be an entertaining exercise for someone with lots of spare time. I was thinking somewhere in the great emptiness west of Parashant, but there are ranges in Nevada and western Utah that would do as well.