What is sorry business?
‘Sorry Business’ is an English expression mostly adopted from mainland Aboriginal people to refer to a period of cultural practices and protocols associated with death.
The most widespread ceremonies of Sorry Business are conducted around the bereavement and funerals for a deceased person.
However, in some communities Sorry Business may also be conducted to mark the experience of grief or loss around other circumstances.
For instance, to mourn the loss of connection to land, such as where an application for recognition of Native Title is lost (in these cases it is highlighted how in some communities the grief and trauma of the loss of cultural connection or land is experienced as painfully as the loss of a loved one).
The base of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies is the concept of community rather than individual. This means that an experience of loss impacts on and changes whole communities as much as individuals within them.
Aboriginal bereavement and funerals
Sorry Business is an important period of mourning for Aboriginal people that involves responsibilities and obligations to attend funerals and participate in other cultural events, activities or ceremonies.
In some Aboriginal communities, the extent of obligations to participate in Sorry Business related to bereavement is dictated by the status of the deceased person and a person’s kinship to them. It is very important to recognise that in many communities, there is an expectation that funerals involve the whole community and not just the immediate family and friends.
Torres Strait Islander tombstone unveiling
Like Aboriginal culture, Torres Strait Islander culture places great importance on the whole community’s involvement in ceremonial activities and protocols around a person’s death.
A very important ceremony that marks the completion of the tombstone of a deceased loved one is the ‘tombstone unveiling’. It represents the family’s final goodbye to their lost family member and it is usually performed about a year after the loss. The tombstone and gravesite is extensively decorated for the ceremony, and after many days’ preparation, the ceremony lasts a whole day and ends with feasting and traditional dancing. There is a big gathering of family to celebrate.
Protocols regarding Sorry Business
There are a number of responsibilities and obligations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to attend funerals and participate in Sorry Business or bereavement protocols.
In some communities, the Sorry Business prohibitions extend to not conducting activities, events, meetings or consultations during the observance of Sorry Business, and this must be observed and respected by all those working with Aboriginal organizations and communities. These prohibitions may last for various periods of time.
It is important to inquire before going to a location or visiting community members to ensure that Sorry Business protocols are not being observed.
The protocols can include, but are not limited to:
- Not using the name of a person who has passed away;
- Not broadcasting the voice of a person who has passed away;
- Family members remaining in their houses for a period of time when a death in the family has occurred;
- Restriction on participating in non-bereavement related activities or events;
- (Sometimes) prohibition to depict the image of the deceased person.
Tips for supportive responses to Sorry Business
- It is important for the child’s well-being to be completely free to participate in Sorry Business.
- Remember that your conception of ‘Sorry Business’ may be different to the child’s (That is, whether or not you believe a child should attend a funeral).
- The children might be scared to go to the funeral: give them a choice and talk with the family.
- Respect the protocol by respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander culture.
- It is important to welcome back the child at the end of the ceremony period.
- Reassure the child when they return. Ask them if they would like to speak to you about it.
- Don’t make assumptions about the presumed ‘closeness’ or relationship of a person (child) to the deceased in appreciating the necessity of their participation in Sorry Business.
- Support and understand the process of sorry business.
- Be aware of protocols surrounding photos of deceased. Asking or wanting a picture of the person could offend the family – Ask!