Melanesia

Dorothy Counts reported three cases of NDEs among the population of Kaliai, in the province of Western New Britain, part of Melanesia (Counts 1983). From these accounts emerged a vision of the afterlife characterized by factories and wage employment. For instance, a person she interviewed found himself walking through a field of flowers to a road that forked in two. In each fork of the road a man was standing persuading the NDEr to come with him. The NDEr picked one of the forks at random:

the man took my hand and we entered a village. There we found a long ladder that led up into a house. We climbed the ladder but when we got to the top I heard a voice saying: 'It isn't time for you to come. Stay there. I'll send a group of people to take you back.' ... So they took me back down the steps. I wanted to go back to the house, but I couldn't because it turned and I realized that it was not on posts. It was just hanging there in the air, turning around as if it were on an axel (sic). If I wanted to go to the door, the house would turn and there would be another part of the house where I was standing. There were all kinds of things inside this house, and I wanted to see them all. There were men working with steel, and some men building ships, and another group of men building cars. I was standing staring when this man said: 'It's not time for you to be here. Your time is yet to come. I'll send some people to take you back . . . you must go back.' I was to go back, but there was no road for me to follow, so the voice said: 'Let him go down.' Then there was a beam of light and I walked along it. I walked down the steps, and then when I turned to look there was nothing but forest ... So I walked along the beam of light, through the forest and along a narrow path. I came back to my house and re-entered my body and I was alive again.

(Counts 1983: 199-120)

According to Counts, this 'unusual' kind of NDE vision relates to the Kaliai's beliefs that the afterlife is characterized by 'divinely given technologies, including factories, automobiles, highways, airplanes, European houses and buildings in great numbers, and manufactured goods' (ibid.: 130). She also observed how the content of the paradise varies and seems to be culturally defined: 'North Americans and Europeans see beautiful gardens, while Kaliai find an industrialized world of factories, highways, and urban sprawl.' The culturally structured nature of these experiences is consistent with the explanation that out-of-the-body and near-death experience are the result of a psychological state known as hypnagogic sleep. The Kaliai data presented here suggest that this, rather than an objectively experienced 'life after death', is the most reasonable explanation for the phenomenon (ibid.: 132-3).

Other substantial differences between Melanesian NDE and those reported in Western countries arise from her study. There was no claim of viewing the body or possessing a new one, nor were there any reports of floating sensations or feeling exhilarated with the usual feelings of joy and peace. Auditory sensations were absent and most noticeable was the description of a 'journey' along a road or path. No experiencer recalled moving through a tunnel. Only one of them claimed to have met a personage 'dressed in white'. Against these differences, the anthropologist was able to identify a few similarities. She observes: 'Experiencers regretted leaving the place in which they had found themselves, and they also reported encountering others, including some who had died at an earlier time' (ibid.: 131-2).

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