Once upon a time, before Judeo-Christian ideology permeated every fucking layer of our lives and spread its self-righteous, complacent bullshit all over the globe, the people of Kiribati, a tiny reef island nation in the Pacific, had a complex burial ritual for their dead. Comprised of 33 atolls and a main island, Kiribati was inhabited by the ethnic Micronesian peoples of the region going back some 3000 years BC and was later invaded by Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, whose inhabitants diversified the local ethnic population somewhat. Rich in phosphates and a natural wonderland of sorts, Kiribati soon got run over by European “traders” in the 17th century – and you can guess how the rest of the story panned out: two hundred years of colonialism and over-mining of every bit of natural resource that existed on the tiny island. However, Western missionaries, who invaded the island like pests and brought with them the promise of the Christendom, did the most enduring damage to the local culture by wiping out one of the most interesting burial rituals I have come across: the skull burial.
Although historical accounts vary wildly depending on the source, it is believed that the burial ritual included keeping the body of the deceased in the family’s home for three to twelve days depending on the individual’s social standing, constantly anointing it with oil, and cleaning the decomposing flesh and organs before burying the body underground near the family’s home. After seven months or so, the body was exhumed then reburied with the skull taken out of the ground and back home to be polished with scented oil and offered food and tobacco. It was displayed on a shelf as a revered possession and a symbol of the native god Nakaa’s acceptance of the deceased’s spirit.
This practice is only one of a number of extremely elaborate and complex rituals dealing with disease, death, spirits, and nature that the islanders performed (and in some cases, continue to perform) before the missionaries descended on them like the plague. Sadly, today around 95% of the island’s inhabitants belong to one or more Christian denominational sects.