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‘Eat coffee candy and die’: sex, death and Huli funerals

Philip Gibbs A B and Heather Worth A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW 2052, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Sexual Health 9(5) 497-498
Submitted: 17 February 2012  Accepted: 23 March 2012   Published: 31 August 2012


Background: Sex and death have traditionally been linked in Huli culture in the Southern Highlands in Papua New Guinea. Huli regarded that close contact with women could result in men becoming sick or dying. However, there has been rapid social and economic development in the area and Huli traditions are changing. At the same time, HIV prevalence is rising. Methods: Twenty-five semistructured in-depth interviews were carried out with key informants during a study on HIV risk in the Southern Highlands. Interviews were conducted mostly in Tok Pisin. Interviews were transcribed and the data were analysed though thematic coding. Results: Huli people use ‘eating coffee candy’ as a metaphor for engaging in sex at funerals. This is very new and against traditional values, where women attended funerals and men only built the coffins and buried the body. Nowadays, sex occurs at funerals. This change has disturbed older people because it has not only changed the customary meaning of the funeral space, but it has also encouraged the spread of HIV. Huli use the fatalistic expression ‘Eat coffee candy and die,’ to refer to funerals as a space of HIV risk. Conclusion: Huli community and church leaders, and health workers are attempting to deal with the situation by not allowing men to stay at the funeral site overnight, burying the dead on the same day they die and using customary village law to charge men caught having sex at a funeral. However, traditional beliefs and rapid social change in the context of an HIV epidemic need to be taken into account.

Additional keywords: AIDS, culture, HIV, Papua New Guinea, traditional beliefs.


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