The idea of introducing a crematorium to Rarotonga has been raised by some as the answer to the problem of where to bury loved ones.
Dedicated public cemeteries in Nikao and Panama, including the Catholic graveyard, have almost reached capacity.
When relatives die, many landless families have to rely on the goodwill of Rarotonga landowners because the high cost of returning a casket to an outer island by air or sea is prohibitive for many.
But the patience of some landowners is wearing thin. The reasons are standard: descendants aren’t maintaining the graves of their loved ones buried on their land; too many non-landowning families are asking to bury their dead in graveyards that are supposedly just for the landowning family, family cemeteries are filling up and land is becoming increasingly limited and valuable.
A Nikao family recently began levelling the graves of extended Manihiki family, a decision that was not without controversy. It included the mass tomb of the late Nikao MP Niroa Manuela, two grandchildren and a great-grandson. The landowning family justified the move because of long-term neglect of the graves by relatives.
The country’s biggest church, the Cook Islands Christian Church, supports having public burial grounds and believes that it is for government or traditional leaders to set aside land for the purpose.
However, land on the island is not limitless. While not believing in cremation, the CICC acknowledges, “this may become a reality in the Cook Islands as landowners are not willing to provide burial grounds for those other than family members.”
The CICC executive council said the church had done its best to provide burial grounds in the past in churchyards around the island. But what was once available to the CICC has come to an end, the council saying, “the church has run out of land and is unable to provide more land for public burials.
“The church does not believe in cremation but understands that this is a necessary option available in many countries due to limited burial lands or public cemeteries.”
Sea burials are out of the question for the CICC and the council says emphatically the church is “opposed” to the practice.
“The church is opposed to burial by burning of bodies and supports burial as conducted by the church at present.”
Opposition Muri Enua MP James Beer takes another tack saying,
“Living can be expensive but so is dying. In this modern world some people simply can’t afford to die.”
He sees the burial issue as being “an issue of national importance that needs urgent attention.”
Beer says government and the country’s legislators have a moral duty to find a solution.
“As there are laws for the living there has to be regulations on how we take care of the dead.”
He points out the problem isn’t new and isn’t confined to Rarotonga or the Pa Enua.
“It is also a major and growing problem the world over particularly as populations grow.”
Growing populations means more people eventually dying and depending on cultural and religious beliefs Beer says most will want a “natural burial which requires a burial site.”
The options of sea burials and cremation both have issues, the former is frowned upon and infrastructure for the latter involves energy costs and poses emissions challenges, says Beer.
“Governments past and present have known about this issue for quite some time but very little has been done about it, obviously because of competing interests and scarce resources.”
Beer says the opposition doesn’t have a ready solution to the problem.
“But it certainly deserves consultation with the public and attention from our policy committee.”
Health minister’s reaction: Wednesday’s CI News.