In Kiunga, a small town in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province, rapid population growth has made the construction of a new Catholic cemetery imperative.
To overcome the topographical challenge posed by the city’s hilly landscape, the cemetery is largely terraced. The newly created levels are concentrated around two hills, the graves spreading out in the landscape as the years pass. To shield the visitors from Papua New Guinea’s heavy rainfall and strong sunshine, shelters are set up on the terraces. The graves themselves are protected by roofs, giving the cemetery a distinct appearance.
In Kiunga the deceased are traditionally taken to different places before being buried. Nowadays, this has become increasingly difficult for sanitary reasons. Consequently, the cemetery houses the necessary infrastructure for burials in a new interpretation of the longhouses traditionally found in the Western Province. The different functional areas are lined up along a central passageway oriented east to west, an architectural representation of a deceased person’s last journey. The longhouse’s low eaves deny passers-by a view into intimate areas of the building but recede at certain points to allow passage and frame the landscape.
Traditionally, forests played a major religious role, as for many tribes they were the place where the spirits of the dead gathered. For this reason, part of the existing forest was preserved in the centre of the new cemetery. At the heart of this grove is a chapel which serves as an architectural link between the present and the original faith of the local people. A large wooden cross, placed in the forest and facing the chapel, symbolises the coming together of traditional religions and Christianity.
All these elements are woven together by numerous smaller interventions, creating a singular place merging tradition and modernity: a timeless landscape, for the dead as well as the living.