The main cemeteries on Rarotonga are near to capacity and many families for custom and cultural reasons choose to bury their loved ones close to their dwellings. Most families live on leased land and should get the permission of the landowner before carrying out a burial. In practice many follow the traditions of their ancestors and bury their family members close to their home without formal permission.
While close family remain in Rarotonga, the memorials installed over these burials are well tended and look clean and tidy. As families disperse, or become elderly and unable to tend to the memorials they tend to deteriorate, leaving the landowners with the problem.
In general, we saw very few poorly maintained memorials most were vwell care for with fresh flowers or plants around the memorial.
“Turama”, or “All Souls Day” celebrated on the island of Rarotonga, is a festival to remember as families remember and celebrate departed loved ones throughout the island .
In the week leading up to All Soul’s Day, islanders decorate graves with beautiful and often fragrant flowers such as frangipani, gardenias and hibiscus which are strung in garlands around the grave sites. They also spend that week cleaning and maintaining the memorials and grave sites. Special candles are placed, ready to be lit in the evening and then left to burn through the night. These candles, often thousands of them, create a great spectacle as you travel around the island
At Turama, islanders gather around the memorials they have installed over the grave sites of their loved ones, swapping stories, laughing at times and silent at others as they remember their departed family and friends. It is a time for reflection, sharing, beauty, remembrance and a celebration of life and the here after.
An interesting feature of a number of the older grave sites is the construction of the ‘tomb’ like structure, often with a ridged roof. These appear to be made with the local rock and coral and then plastered over to create the smooth outer surface. You can see in the middle picture above a number of these structures in the Nikao Cemetery, some which have become worn to expose the coral fill that was used.