(Photo: Michael Thirnbeck)
Up until 1949, when a member of the Anga people of Papua New Guinea died, his relatives didn't bury or cremate the body. They smoked it--meaning that they cured the flesh. What those of us in the West do to meat to preserve it, the Anga did to preserve the bodies of the dead.
It was an unusual form of mummification. It ended in 1949, but 14 of the bodies preserved this way prior to then are still out in the open and remarkably well-preserved. Ian Lloyd Neubauer, a journalist with the BBC, journeyed into the remote Aseki District of Papua New Guinea to learn more about the practice. He talked to a local man named Dickson:
Most of what’s known about the mummies is based on hearsay, exaggeration or flights of the imagination. Even the locals I spoke to – Dickson, a pastor named Loland and a schoolteacher named Nimas – seemed to offer different stories about the ritual’s past.
The first documented report on the smoked corpses was by British explorer Charles Higginson in 1907 – seven years prior to the start of WWI. Yet according to Dickson, the mummying practice began during WWI, when the Anga attacked the first group of missionaries to arrive in Aseki. His great-grandfather, one of the corpses we saw under the cliff, was shot dead by the missionaries in self-defence.
Dickson said the event sparked a series of payback killings that came to an end when the missionaries gifted the natives salt, with which they began embalming their dead. The practice only lasted for a generation, he added, since a second round of missionaries successfully converted the Anga to Christianity.
Loland and Nimas confirmed that the smoke corpse ritual ended in 1949, when missionaries took firm root in Aseki. But unlike Dickson, Loland and Nimas said mummification had been practiced by the Anga for centuries. The bodies were not cured using salt, they explained, but smoked over months in a “spirit haus”. They were then covered in red clay to maintain their structural integrity and placed in shrines in the jungle.
-via Amusing Planet