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By Grace Auka-Salmang in Port Moresby

Not a single tear was shed as 54 unclaimed bodies and 11 body parts were laid on top of each other in a single open grave dug out at the 9-Mile Cemetery in Port Moresby this week.

It was a rather undignified way to go for the corpses. What were once loved ones clearly had been forgotten — every single one of them.

But what was even sadder was the 9 bodies of children among the mass burial after six months had gone by with not a single family member coming forward to claim them.

A mass burial is unusual in Melanesian society such as Papua New Guinea, but without relatives collecting the bodies it had to be done.

Wrapped in plastic bags and put in standard plain box coffins, the bodies and body parts were taken to the cemetery from the Port Moresby General Hospital in two trucks.

The bodies have been at the mortuary and other makeshift storage containers.

The covid-19 situation in NCD also complicated matters for the hospital and the relatives of the deceased.

No time to waste
At the burial site, it was no time to waste for the morgue attendees as they unloaded the two truckloads containing the bodies and body parts and quickly lowered them stacked into the hole in the ground.

Port Moresby General Hospital director for medical services Dr Kone Sobi said the mass burial came into effect following several media announcements following the overwhelming burden at the morgue facility.

“We come from a Melanesian society and this kind of sending off our loved ones is not expected, however it has to be done,” Dr Sobi said.

“We had to go through due process as it takes time to comply with the processes to take place.

“The mass burial was for dead bodies that have been in the morgue since March, April and May this year.

“There were requests after the initial announcements for mass burial from relatives and friends of the deceased in the name list to reserve and claim their loved ones.”

He said the hospital allowed that process to take place and the period had lapsed.

An approved list
“We then provide the approved list from the coroner to the National Capital District Commission (NCDC) to conduct the mass burial.

“If the body is not claimed after two weeks, then this goes to the Coroner to give an authorisation and once it is authorised, the mass burial is carried out,” he said.

The mortuary is the function of the NCDC social services division and it is the responsible of the office of the governor who has appointed a contractor to carry out the mass burial and all the parties involved have allowed and assisted the hospital to carry out this exercise.

He said the usual costs for mass burial was about K90,000 (about NZ$38,000) because a mass burial is carried out on a quarterly basis during a year, so one mass burial costs about K30,000. However, for this year’s exercise, NCDC is responsible for the costs.

For these mass burials, there were 54 adult bodies, nine children and 11 body parts from individuals who have been involved in accidents and people who have had injuries resulting in amputation of upper and lower limbs.

This is a combination of two mass burials that were supposed to be carried out in the year.

Dr Sobi said that for this year, this was the first mass burial exercise to be carried out.

Grace Auka-Salmang is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.

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