Funeral traditions vary throughout the world and mourning the loss of a loved one can be an extremely difficult time, but it can also be a very spiritual and communal event. While death is a very real and human experience, different cultures and societies treat their dead varies in various manners.
As experienced funeral directors, we have carried out research into some of the most fascinating funeral traditions and rituals from around the world. From Ghanaian fantasy coffins to Asian sky burials, each tradition tells a story of how diverse our views on death and dying really are. We pay homage to some of these wonderful funeral traditions and rituals.
The Malagasy people of Madagascar take part in a funerary tradition known as Famadihana – also called the turning of the bones. Families dig up the tombs of their ancestors, bring the bodies back to their homes where they are rewrapped in fresh cloth, and then dance with the bodies around the tomb to live music. The tradition symbolises the connection between the dead and the living and is seen as an important way of remembering their relatives and friends. Once the ceremony has ended, the bodies are reburied back in the tombs.
The hanging of the coffins is a ritual native to areas such as China, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is unlike the traditional coffin in the ground burial, these communities believe that the deceased should be as close to the sky as possible – to show that they hold that person in high respect, and ultimately, bring their spirit closer to heaven. This is an ancient method of burial, popular among communities such as the BO people in Southern China. Bodies are often hung on cliff sides, on natural rock projections on mountain faces.
Sky burials are a traditional funerary practice whereby departed are taken to the top of a mountain or religious temple to decompose while being exposed to the elements of consumed by scavenging. A traditional form of excarnation, this ritual is carried out by Indian, Chinese and Mongolian natives. The sky burial is said to enable the body to leave its physical form behind so that their spirits can be released.
Fantasy or figurative coffins are a common burial method in Ghana. Typically, an artist or craftsman will design and build the coffins to represent a particular characteristic or personality trait of the deceased. These colourful, elaborate coffins are created to symbolise that death is not the end and that life will continue into the next world as it did on earth. Each coffin is made to order and takes up to two days to complete.
South Korea is a small country (half the size of Britain) but is home to approximately 50 million people. For this reason, burial space is limited. In 2000, the government passed a law that required families to remove their loved one’s graves after 60 years. Needless to say, the law was looked upon with disgust and sadness. Since much of the South Korean population has favoured cremation – but with a twist. Many are turning to Bonhyang, a company that specialises in turning ashed into beads using heat. The beads come in different shapes and sizes depending on the size and age of the individual – a beautiful way to remember their loved ones.
Green funerals or natural burials have become a popular alternative among the Western world. The process involves burying a loved one in a casket which is made of biodegradable materials and is capable of decomposing into the ground. Instead of interring toxic embalming fluids into the earth, this method allows the body to be recycled sustainably and naturally.
In Australia’s Northern Territory, when a loved one passes in Aboriginal society, elaborate rituals begins. First, a smoking ceremony takes place in the loved one’s living room to ward off evil spirits. Next, a feast is held, during which mourners painted with ochre eat, drink and dance. The body is usually left on top of a platform and covered in leaves during the decomposition stage.
At ISCA Funerals, we understand that you may want to may want to celebrate the life of your loved one in a more personal way. Many people are foregoing the non-conventional, Victorian ceremony, and opting for an alternative funeral. We are an independent, family-run company, offering a personal, caring and professional service whatever your funeral requirements. To find out more, please contact us today.
Image sources: Wikipedia, Spectacular Optical, Coffin Company