Funeral Rites Cultures From around the World

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“On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down.” Woody Allen

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..from China to Ghana, from Tibet to the highlands of Scotland and you’ll see that the celebration of life and the rituals of death, past and present, vary considerably. Below are some of our favourites.

Want a custom to reflect how you lived your life during your funeral? Make a note of it in your own Funeral Plan.

  • Every year 5000 Christmas wreaths are placed on the tombstones at Arlington Cemetery, as a reminder of the sacrifices American soldiers have made for their country.

 

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    • In Northern Vietnam the deceased are buried in the land in which they lived. They will generally be laid to rest in the middle of a rice paddy. After two years, the deceased’s family will dig up the body, clean all of the bones, and then re-bury the body in the family garden.
    • The Austrian village of Hallstatt is located between a mountain and lake, so therefore has very limited burial space. To solve this problem they would allow for the remains of their dead to lie in the cemetery for 12 years only. When the time was up the bones would be exhumed and moved to a charnel, but the skull would be kept. It would be tastefully decorated with the name of the deceased, a cross and plants. It would then be displayed in a chapel. Although cremation has now been allowed in the village this custom still takes place.

 

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  • In parts of China, it’s believed that the more people that attend your funeral, the more luck will be bestowed upon your relatives. Therefore, to attract more ‘mourners’, strippers have fast become an integral part of an after tears party. Needless to say, men turn up to these functions by the truck load.
  • In Ghana, fantasy coffins are rapidly becoming the final resting place. These caskets are apparently designed to reflect the way the deceased lived his or her life. Thus, coffins are carved into everything from airplanes and motor cars to cigarettes and bottles of beer.
  • In the Scottish highlands the deceased would be buried with a small amount of salt and soil placed on their chest. The soil implied that the body decays and becomes one with the earth. The salt, however, represents the soul and like the soul does not decay and die.
    • Buddhists in Tibet believe that when a person dies the soul leaves the body so there really is no need to keep the empty vessel. Therefore, the body is given back to the land in the form of Tibetan sky ritual (or Excarnation). The procedure takes place on a large flat rock in a specific location. A monk and several rogyapas (body breakers) will dismember the body, grind down the bones and flesh and then feed it to vultures. This ritual may seem, to some, as a brutal way of treating your loved one but it really isn’t. In Buddhism, vultures are redeemed as  sacred animals because they do not kill and instead simply accept what comes their way – so the Tibetans believe that they are quite simply sustaining life. Moreover, because the terrain in Tibet is so hard, burials are almost impossible so it really is considered to be a practical way to dispose of the dead.

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  • In ancient Rome, when someone was on their death bed, the eldest male relative would lean in close, inhale and catch the last breath of the dying person.
  • According to the great Greek historian Herodotus, the Calatians ate their dead. It was thought to be the family’s sacred duty. Queen Artemisia apparently mixed the ashes of her lover with wine and drank it.
  • Even now certain African tribes grind the bones of their loved ones and mix them with food.
  • Other African tribes would fire spears and arrows into the air, to ward off evil spirits that may be hovering over their dead. Nowadays, the ritual of firing a rifle over the deceased mirrors this age old practice.
  • Some cultures would go a step further to demonstrate respect for their dead. People would mutilate themselves by cutting off fingers and toes.
  • Years ago in Japan, if a nobleman died, twenty to thirty slaves were made to commit Hari-Kiri (belly cutting) in respect for him. Moreover in Fiji, friends, wives and slaves of the deceased would be strangled in his honour.
  • In Hindu India, a widow was considered vulgar and useless without her husband, therefore she was expected to lie by his side and be cremated alive. This ritual, Sati, was believed to purify the widow and give her free passage to Heaven. Although Sati was abolished in 1829 there have been numerous cases since. Even as recent as 1981 an eighteen year old widow was a victim of the custom. Whether it was voluntary or she was forced to do it is still unknown.
  • Today, Hindus from all over the world will make their final pilgramage to die in the city of Banaras, on the Ganges river. It is believed that dying here will help break the cycle of death and re-birth, and will allow the soul to ascend to the world of the ancestors – Pitriloka. Over 80 funeral pyres lie along the Ganges, so that the dead may be cremated. Often times, people are unable to cremate their loved ones and will simply float the dead body down the river.
  • In many cultures men and women have been treated differently after they have passed away. The Ghonds buried their women but cremated their men. The Bongas buried their men with their faces to the North and their women to the South. The Cochieans buried their women but suspended their men from trees.
  • In the Jewish religion, mourners will take part in a grieving process known as sitting Shiva. Immediately after burial, friends and family of the deceased will go to the Shiva house where they will mourn for 7 days. Here, they sit as low to the floor as possible as a sign of their grief. All mirrors are covered so that they may concentrate on the reality of being a soul and ignore their own physicality. A candle representing the soul of the deceased will burn throughout the 7 days.
  • Who needs fertility drugs when you have a death shroud? In Madagascar, people dig up their dead relatives for a ceremony called famadihana. They parade the bones around the village and then bury the remains in a new shroud. The old shroud is given to childless newlyweds who place it on their bed.

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