Tombstone Unveiling Ceremonies
Of distinctive importance among newer customs was that of tombstone unveiling ceremonies, which had sprung up, announced all over the Torres Strait Islands by the 1930s. They were a way of reaffirming the imperishable bonds between the living and the departed. A year or more after a burial a second ceremony with special rites is held.
The in-laws, who arranged and performed the burial now have a tombstone made. People have sent in money. The family wraps the tombstone in cloth and decorates it. They then give a feast for the in-laws after 'going to rest' prayers and hymns are said. The oldest man in the village may speak of the person's life. Gifts of cloth, produce, money, garden are given by the family to the in-laws to say thank-you for arranging the funeral. The head in-law returns the thanks and calls everyone to eat together.
The two-way sharing between in-laws and family is parallelled by a reciprocal balance between the living and the departed one, whose spirit is freed to a new world. This new rite is of first-order importance among the Meriam and other Torres Strait Islanders: it completes a two-stage burial rite, which was outlawed by the missionaries. Wherever Torres Strait Islanders are, and more them half of them live today in towns of North Queensland, tombstone unveiling ceremonies continue to have a central place in their lives today.
Keywords: burial, Sharp, Dr. Nonie, Stars of Tagai, tombstone unveiling, Torres Strait, Torres Strait Islanders
Sharp, Nonie 1993, 'Stars of Tagai, The Torres Strait Islanders', Aboriginal Studies Press, pp 113-15.