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.