When a high status person died their village would pay respects by enacting a dramatic mourning ritual. The focus of the ritual was the chief mourner, wearing a costume called heva tupapa’u. Accompanied by armed and painted attendants they would appear at dawn or dusk and terrify the villagers for day after day.
During this period the chief mourner was allowed to take violent revenge on anyone who had offended the dead person. People defying them could be injured or even killed unless they managed to escape. The women of the village played their part in the ritual by weeping, cutting themselves and soaking pieces of the funerary shroud in their blood and tears.
When the villagers felt the time was right they would remove the mourner’s costume and destroy it. Surviving costumes are very rare and were sometimes given as prestigious gifts.
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