Tonga landscape

 

Written by Jenny Goldade

 

Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.

 

But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.

 

This article looks at Tongan funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Ugandan funeral traditions and Croatian funeral traditions, among others.

 

Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.

 

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The Wake

Before a Tongan funeral, family and friends of the deceased gather for a wake to pay their respects. Typically mourners bring small funeral gifts for the grieving family, such as woven mats, food, or money. There’s usually an open casket for mourners to say goodbye to the deceased.

 

Tongan Funeral Service

Since most Tongan people are Christian, a Tongan funeral is a mixture of Christian and cultural customs. Everyone gathers at the church for the funeral service, including community members who didn’t know the deceased very well.

 

Most people wear traditional funeral attire, including a woven mat. The type of woven mat depends on several factors, such as someone’s relationship to the deceased. The mats represent their respect and love for the deceased. Some people also may wear torn mats to express their grief.

 

The Burial

After the funeral, there is a funeral procession to the burial that’s lead by a brass band. The priest also may do a graveside funeral service, and the men in the family dig the grave. Many times, the family decorates the gravesite with large, colorful quilts placed on racks. Click here to see some quilt examples. They also may leave food, drinks, and flowers by the gravesite.

 

Mourning Period

During the mourning period, mourners wear black clothing. A person’s closeness to the deceased factors into how long they wear black mourning clothing. When mourning, people are encouraged to still appear in public. It’s typical to see several different emotions from those who are grieving. While some people express their sadness through crying, others turn to humor and laughter to help them grieve.