Pohnpeian Funeral as Part of "Tiahk" or Culture

by Merlinda I. Donre

Pohnpei is a small island located in Micronesia. This island is the capital of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). In Pohnpei, the people have culture, which is known as "tiahk" in their own language. Culture is something that is passed down from generations to generations.

One good example of Pohnpeian culture is funeral or "mehla" in their language. When a person dies, the family has a lot of responsibility to do. The family with some members of the community will get together to set up their place before the big crowd comes in. They will clean their place, set up the cooking place, etc,etc. In the meantime, somebody representing the immediate family will go to the radio station and put up an announcement of the deceased. Some men will go to the king or "nahnmwarki" for invitation or "luhk". This invitation goes to the nahnmwarki of the place the funeral will be held at. For example, if the funeral will be held at U municepality, the invitation will be given to the nahnmwarki of U.

When the nahnmwarki gets there,the men would present the sakau or cava plant and cut the branches off and get the roots ready for bounting. The "menindei" or the master of ceremony would announce to the sakau makers to start bounding the sakau. When the sakau is ready, the first cup or "pwehl" goes to the nahnmwarki. The second cup known as "are" goes to the Nahnken or the second high ranking man in the nahs or the gathering house, the third cup or "esil" goes to the likend or nahnalek(wife of the nahmwarki). And the last cup, which is "sapwe" goes back to the nahnmwarki. After the nahnmwarki drinks or "koanoate" the "sapwe",the cup can be passed to everyone else in the nahs. The "umw" or the Pohnpeian local oven will be prepared. In the meantime, speeches will be given by the people. Some speeches will be about the clan of the deceased, how they are related to the deceased, and more.

After the speeches, the menindei will call out to the ladies to pass foods they prepared for everyone. After everyone has been served lunch, the menindei will call out "umwpwel umwin koanoaten" which is when the people will spread the rocks of the "umw" to put the sluttered pigs, breadfruits, yams, and other local foods that will go with the plenty pigs that are killed during the day. After that, they will cover up the "umw", and the people will start bringing in the all the sakau in the nahs and the biggest sakau will be the last to be brought in and they will pile them up. One man will have to represent the family and give a speech about thanking everybody for coming to their funeral, apologizing if their work is not very satisfactory and announce the activities of the next day. After that, they will divide all the sakau for all the traditional leaders, relatives,and friends. The "enihlap" or the biggest sakau of the day will be distributed on all the bounding stones in the nahs. The menindei will call our "sukusuk" which means "start bounding". When the sakau is ready, the menindei will call out "nohpwei" and the "pwehl", will be given to the nahnmwarki, "are" will be given to the nahnken, "esil" will be given to the nahnalek/likend, and "sapwe" will be given to the nahnmwarki again. After "sapwe", some men will open up the "umw" and they will be bringing in the cooked pigs for division. At the same time the family will take the coven for burial.

The coven is usually in the main house for people to come and weep and say their last words by prayers and songs, and by donating some money. Before burial, a priest or a pastor will say a prayer. After the prayer, all the ladies and children will cry. That is when some men will come in the house and take the coven to the burial side. On their way to the burial side, people will be singing and crying. When they reach the burial side, the pries or pastor will complete the prayer. When the prayer is done, soil will be thrown on the coven and the men will start burying the coven. After the burial, the high ranking people will take their share of foods and go home, while some people will stay at the nahs to drink sakau.

On the next day, which is often referred to as "rahn en peneinei", which means family day, relatives and some friends will get together with their "umw". Just like the day before, similar routine, but only immediate and extended family members and friends.

On the third day, which is known as "sou materek" means a test whether the deceased was a fisherman and could catch a lot of fish. Some people will go fishing, while some will stay and prepare food, lays,oil,sakau, and lots of drinks for the fishemen. If the fishemen got a lot of fish, that means that the deceased has provided them good luck for fishing that day. If not, that means the spirit of the deceased did not help them to catch plenty of fish.

On the fourth day is for cleaning. Relatives and friends get together early in the morning to clean the place. There will be "umw" for the cleaners and people who showed up on that day. Sacks of rice will be given out to the cleaners individually.

On the fifth to ninth day, only the immediate family, some members of the immediate family, and some friends get together to drink sakau, eat together and make some memories of the deceased. Some relatives remain at the place until the the tenth day.

On the tenth night, they call it "pwohng kodongoul", the immediate family will host a farewell party for the deceased. A lot of people will show up. They will be given lays, oil, lavalava, and many more gifts on that night. They will also drink sakau. This ends the funeral.

In Pohnpei, the "tiahk" or culture is very important. Everybody should know this "tiahk". Most families in Pohnpei are training their kids to know "tiahk". It is the identity of the Pohnpeians. Without "tiahk", Pohnpeians will lose their identity.

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