The funeral and burial process feels like the “standard” way to lay a loved one to rest. As a Brighton Funeral Director we recognise this is certainly the case for the UK and quite a lot of the Western World. Other parts of the world and other cultures, even in some parts of the Western world however, have very different and, frankly, interesting traditions for sending their recently deceased off on their “next adventure.”
New Western Traditions
In New Orleans, French, West African and African American traditions are melded together for funerals. Funeral processions are led by marching jazz bands. At the start of the procession, the band plays sad and mournful music. After the body is buried, though, the band switches to upbeat and happier fare. Mourners are encouraged to dance as cathartic dancing is seen as a way to honor the life of the person who has passed away.
In other parts of the US, the “green” (environmentally friendly) burial is quickly catching on. For these funerals, the family chooses to forego the embalming process for the deceased and, instead of concrete vaults or traditional coffins, woven willow caskets are chosen. These caskets are biodegradable and the body decomposes much more quickly since it has not been embalmed. There are currently forty “green” cemeteries within the United States.
Another growing trend in the US is to have a loved one turned into a “reef ball.” Eternal Reefs, a company in the US, will take the remains of a loved one and compress them into a single sphere or ball and then attach that ball to a reef in the ocean. The reef acts as a habitat for local sea life.
Because space is severely limited in South Korea, any family that opts for a burial has to remove the deceased after sixty years to make room for someone new. As a result many families are opting for cremation. Instead of choosing ashes (a standard used all over the world), the deceased’s loved ones are choosing to have the cremated remains pressed into black or brightly colored gem-like stones (or beads). These beads then get put on display in the bereaved’s home.
There are a myriad of interesting funeral traditions among the different cultures living in the Philippines:
The Benguet (people who live in the Northern Philippines) blindfold the deceased and place them right next to the entrance of the home.
The Tinguian put the body of the deceased in the person’s very best and finest clothes and then sit them in a chair and put a lit cigarette between their lips.
The Caviteno bury their dead in the hollowed out trunks of trees. The trees are selected by the person themselves, when they get sick.
The Apayo bury their deceased in graves under their kitchens.
Mongolia and Tibet
The Vajrayana Buddhists who live in these countries believe that when a person dies, his soul moves on and his body becomes an empty vessel that needs to be given back to the earth. To do this, the empty vessel is chopped up into smaller pieces which get placed on the top of a mountain—but are left exposed to the elements (like scavenger birds). The tradition is ancient but is still chosen by around 80% of the people who live in Tibet today.
In Madagascar, the Malagasy “turn the bones” (the ritual is called “famadihana”). Every five to seven years, the family of the deceased gathers for a celebration at the ancestral crypt. The bodies, which have been wrapped in cloth are exhumed and get doused with perfume or wine and then, while a live band plays, family members dance with the deceased, using the time to send along family news, ask for blessings and to remember and share stories about the people who have passed away.
These are just a few of the different traditions that exist around the world. Remember—while those of us left behind might be grieving and missing our loved ones, for many cultures, a funeral is a time to celebrate the life of the deceased or to send it off on a brand new adventure!