Insights on end-of-life ceremonial practices of Australian Aboriginal peoples

Collegian. 2008;15(4):125-33. doi: 10.1016/j.colegn.2008.03.002.


The ceremonies surrounding death are extremely important to Aboriginal peoples and take precedence over all other activities. This article presents research findings on Aboriginal mortuary ceremonies in the hope that it will be useful for non-indigenous nurses working with Aboriginal peoples. A qualitative research methodology was used, whereby data were collected by conducting 72 open-ended interviews with patients, carers, Aboriginal health care workers, health care workers and interpreters in four geographical areas in the Northern Territory. A descriptive phenomenological approach was taken to the recording and analysis of the data. The findings reveal that traditional practices including the smoking ceremony (a spiritual ritual conducted in the deceased's living space with the rationale of driving the deceased's spirit away), painting ochre on all living spaces inhabited by the deceased, or alternatively of putting up "flags" (which is considered to drive away the deceased's spirit and also to notify to the community that this is the house of a deceased) and the death ceremony (which includes practices such as keeping the deceased's body in the home, painting the bodies of the mourners and bringing kinship communities together to share food, song and dance) are of great significance in many Aboriginal cultures. It is the authors' hope and expectation that an understanding of these rituals, and their significance for different cultural groups, will assist nurses by increasing their knowledge of Aboriginal cultural and ceremonial practices associated with caring for the deceased and so aid their important work in this area.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cultural Competency
  • Funeral Rites*
  • Health Services, Indigenous*
  • Humans
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander*
  • Needs Assessment*
  • Northern Territory
  • Nursing
  • Palliative Care*