Ryan Schram Yawahigu ana amwahao Ol rot bilong laip bilong mi (or, Curriculum vitae)

A Grandparent Ghost Story from Lakalai, Papua New Guinea

I am doing research on a story about grandparents and ancestors from Lakalai (West New Britain, PNG). I first read about it in a paper by the anthropologist C. A. Valentine (1965). In Valentine’s telling, there was an elderly Lakalai woman who died. After her death, her spirit continued to watch over her living grandchild. When the spirit saw the parents mistreating the child, she stole the spirit of the child to take it the village of the dead where the spirit-grandmother could care for it much as she did for the child while alive. This caused the living child to get sick and die until the parents promised to change their ways. When I read it I thought this story perfectly captures the ambivalence many people feel toward ancestor spirits in many different cultures. As Lisa Simpson once said to Homer, “Dad, it’s just that too much of your love can really be… scary” (Archer 1994). So I was wondering if there were other examples of this story in other places, or if other scholars had discussed it. To my knowledge, no one has made use of Valentine’s version of it.

Does anyone have any suggestions for readings on grandparents and ghost stories in PNG?


Archer, Wes. 1994. “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy.” The Simpsons (2F07). Fox Broadcasting Company, December 4. http://simpsonsarchive.com/episodes/2F07.html.

Valentine, C. A. 1965. “The Lakalai of New Britain.” In Gods, Ghosts, and Men: Some Religions of Australian New Guinea and the New Hebrides, edited by P. Lawrence and M. J. Meggitt, 162-197. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.