Ngat is Dead: Studying Mortuary Traditions

The Dutch anthropologist Ton Otto returns to the Melanesian island Baluan after the death of his adoptive father, Ngat. According to local tradition he has to participate in a mortuary ceremony together with his adopted siblings, but the ceremony, his father wanted him to do, has already been performed. Now Ton has to find out what would be an appropriate next step. It appears that different groups have different perspectives and interests and as a compromise, that also suits his own knowledge interests, Ton suggests that two additional ceremonies are performed. While most people are supportive, some strongly criticise the execution of the ceremonies for not being correct according to Baluan tradition. The film deals with the dilemmas of a participating researcher, who is both social actor and anthropological observer, and gives the viewer a close look at the way Melanesian actors contest and negotiate their social reality: their kin relations, mortuary traditions, and also the participating anthropologists.

Region of Origin

Year of Release



59 minutes


Betacam, Color


Christian Suhr Nielsen Thumbnail

Christian Suhr Nielsen

Born in Denmark in 1978, Christian Suhr Nielsen is a graduate student at the Department of Anthropology. At the University of Aarhus His main interest is visual anthropology and ethnographic film. He has produced a number of films for ethnographic and archaeological exhibitions at Moesgaard Museum.

Ton Otto Thumbnail

Ton Otto

Ton Otto is Research Leader at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University, and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aarhus. He has conducted fieldwork in Papua New Guinea since 1986.