Tutini funerary poles for the Pukamani ceremony
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Tutini funerary poles for the Pukamani ceremony

Prior to 1924
painted and sculpted wood
Northern Territory, Melville Island
Tiwi Population
cat. 100629-100638

A Tiwi myth tells how the first funeral ceremony called pukamani was organized at the time of creation. At that time all things were immortal, until the goddess Wai-ai broke the law, causing the death of her small son Jinaini. His father, the god Purakapali, thus created the first pukamani ceremony, to weep over his son, and decreed that from then on anyone who died would follow his son into the world of the spirits. Together with Tokampini, the bird-man, Purukapali sculpted the first great painted poles that were planted around the burial place near the sea. In the same way he created the songs, dances and symbols that are painted on the occasion of the pukamani, transmitting all this to his people. The pukamani ceremony assures life after death and permits the deceased to reach the world of the spirits where he will live forever. Even today, when a person dies, his whole group of relatives is mobilized to celebrate the funeral ceremony. Some cut the pole, while others prepare the body for burial. Among the relatives, before the ceremony those declared Pukamani (this term also indicates the goods of the deceased and his relatives) must observe very strict food and sexual taboos. Moreover the pukamani relatives decorate their bodies with white paint and wear particular ornaments like the pamajini (bundles of pandanus leaves), while they sing and weep for the deceased. Before a pukamani ceremony, the group must settle all arguments. From a social point of view, this ceremony strengthens the bonds of the group. Moreover, the observance of the pukamani guarantees equilibrium between the society of men and nature and ensures good seasons. From an iconographical point of view, the pole represents the totem of the tribe to which the deceased belonged.