Living through a pandemic with thousands of people losing their lives daily globally is indescribable. This level of collective mourning is gut-wrenching. Human beings all over the world have had different ways of mourning and burying their dead loved ones. People gather, sometimes travelling long distances to celebrate the life of the departed, pay their respects and console the families. Different cultures have different and interesting burial traditions with unique accompanying rituals. Here are just a few interesting ones that we noted.
1. South Korea Beads
In South Korea, space is at a premium, this makes burial in the ground unsustainable. South Koreans cremate their dead after which the ashes are turned into colourful beads with a shine to them. The beads which vary in colour from pink to black to turquoise are put in glass vases that are placed in visible places in the home. Something beautiful, a new family heirloom comes out of the cremation process.
2. Sky Burial Tibet
Certain Chinese provinces including Tibet, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia follow the Buddhist tradition. Most forms of Buddhism cremate the bodies or feed them to animals as an act of charity. Because of the scarcity of wood for burning bodies in Tibet, they practice the latter.
In this ritual, bodies are left outside, sometimes after being cut into pieces and carried to the top of the nearest mountain for birds and other animals to feed on. The belief is that in this way, they empty the body, allowing their loved one’s spirit to depart to a divine place. It is also about the circle of life and giving sustenance to the animals. Once the animals have fed and all that’s left is bones, the bones are taken, ground up and fed to cows.
3. Madagascar turning of the bones
Madagascans have an interesting ritual called Famidihana, loosely translated to turning of the bones. Every five to seven years, the relatives of the dead person exhume the body, rewrap it in fresh burial clothes and cover it with essence and spices. The essence and spices are probably to help with the smell. Every event is accompanied by a fresh dance near the tomb while music plays all around. They also take the time to share stories. The ritual is meant to speed up decomposition and push the spirit of the dead towards the afterlife.
4. Funeral strippers in Taiwan
Funeral attendance is a huge deal with high premiums placed on having a big well-attended affair. The people of Taiwan have a fool-proof tradition guaranteed to lead to a high turnout. Some families hire strippers, host dances and set out elaborate feasts to entice people to come.
5. Kiribati skull burial
The Republic of Kiribati in the Central Pacific also has an exhumation related ritual. A few months after burial, they exhume the body and take the skull. The skull is then polished, oiled and preserved and displayed in their homes. Sometimes offerings such as food and tobacco are made to it.
6. India – Antyesti and The Parade
In India, one of the ways they celebrate the life of the deceased involves parading the dead through the streets with the body dressed in colours that highlight the virtues of the deceased. For example, red for purity and yellow for knowledge. The bodies are sprinkled with water from the Ganges River to encourage the souls to reach salvation breaking the cycle of reincarnation then finally cremated. This is a tradition from Varnasi, India.
The Hindu practice, Antyesti which literally translates to ‘the last sacrifice’. In this practice, the deceased are symbolically turned into the elements of creation depending on their caste, gender and age. The funeral pyre is used in at least one part of the practice. Funeral pyre is a structure, usually wooden, for burning a body as part of a funeral rite or execution.
7. Fantasy coffins, Ghana
In Ghana, people get custom-designed coffins that reflect their personalities and that represent something about the way they lived their lives. They are also buried with accessories that meant something to them or that describe them such as mobile phones and parts of machines. Pilots are buried in coffins shaped like planes, fish for fishermen and a Mercedes Benz shaped coffin for a businessman. The burial sites end up looking more like abstract museum pieces than graveyards.
8. Water burial
This is practised mainly in Nordic countries. This is practised in different ways, in some rituals they use water bodies directly as burial grounds while in others, the body is placed atop a cliff facing towards the water. Some set the body adrift in “death ships” on a river or out into the ocean, giving the body back to the gods.
9. Filipino traditions
The Tinguian people of the Philippines dress the deceased in the finest clothes, sit their body on a chair and place a lit cigarette between their lips. The children attending the funeral for the Cebuano people are dressed in red to lessen the chance that they will see ghosts.
Human beings are if nothing else, really interesting. Different cultures honouring their dead and sending them off to the afterlife in different ways. Here’s to remembering that life is but a vapour, we’re here today and tomorrow, we go the way of our ancestors.
Here’s an informative piece on what to do and expect in terms of preparation when someone dies in Kenya.
Is cremation something you are thinking about? Traditions & Burials: Are Cremations The Way To Go In The Future?