With life comes death, and every culture has a unique way of honoring and saying goodbye to their loved ones. Here are some of the most interesting funeral customs from around the world.
The Malagasy of Madagascar. The Malagasy culture remember and honor their ancestors with a funeral tradition called Famadihana, also called the turning of the bones. Family members remove the bodies from the crypt, rewrap them in fresh clothes, carry them around the village and even dance with them to live music before returning the bodies to the crypt.
South Korea. While some customs are ancient others are born as answers to contemporary problems. In 2000 South Korea (a small country) passed a law that loved ones had to be removed from their graves after 60 years, making burial a less popular option to cremation. Rather than housing the cremains in urns South Korean families are having their loved one’s ashes pressed into “death beads”. These beads can be pink, turquoise or black and are beautiful when displayed in glass containers.
Mongolia and Tibet. The Vajrayana Buddhists of Mongolia and Tibet believe that after death the soul leaves the body and the body becomes an empty shell that should be returned to the earth. They aid this process by performing what is called a Sky Burial. The body is chopped into pieces and placed on a high mountaintop to expose it to the elements, including vultures, to insure it’s quick return to nature.
Bali. Balinese tradition dictates that bodies are cremated to release the soul and allow it to inhabit a new body. This cremation process is considered a sacred duty, but is not supposed to be at all sad. Instead, a huge party is thrown, often complete with huge wooden structures of bulls or dragons which are carried through the streets of the city. Even more interestingly, sometimes the dead are buried temporarily until many dead, or even in some cases royalty, can all be cremated together in one huge celebration. When the head of the royal family, Agung Suyasa, died in 2008 he was cremated along with 68 commoners in an incredibly lavish ceremony.
Aboriginals. When someone dies in the native Aboriginal culture of Australia there are several traditions to observe. First there is a smoking ceremony held in the deceased’s home to drive away their spirit. Then a celebratory feast is held complete with food, dance and body painting of the mourners. Finally the body is placed on a platform, covered with leaves and left to decompose.
New Orleans. While many American funerals are somber affairs New Orleans has found a way to turn them into celebrations. Borrowing from their well known jazz traditions mourners are often led to funerals by marching bands. The bands begin by playing mourning music but then transition to jazz dancing music. Onlookers are invited to join the mourners in their march as they follow the band to the funeral.
The Bo. The Bo of Southwest China were wiped out by the Ming Dynasty over 500 years ago; while we know what they did we don’t know why. The Bo interned their dead in coffins secured to the side of a rock face almost 300 feet above water. The coffins and rock face are decorated with bright red murals that can still be seen. Locals call the area “Sons of the Cliffs”.
Apayo. The Filipino group the Apayo have a unique way of insuring the dead are honored as they would want. Their dead are interned in hollowed out tree trunks that they themselves picked when they were still alive.