Funeral practices are deeply ingrained in culture and, around the globe, hugely varied traditions reflect a wide spread of beliefs and values. Here, a look at just a few of funeral traditions that might strike someone outside a culture as odd.
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South Korean burial beads. Last year it was reported that there was a growing trend in South Korea, where a law passed in 2000 requires anyone burying a loved one to remove the grave after 60 years. Because of dwindling graveyard space and this resulting law, cremation has become much more popular. But families don’t always opt for ashes. Several companies there compress remains into gem-like beads in turquoise, pink or black. These “death beads” are then displayed in the home.
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Filipino death traditions. Many ethnic groups in the Philippines have unique funeral practices. The Benguet of Northwestern Philippines blindfold their dead and place them next to the main entrance of the house, while their Tinguian neighbours dress the body in their best clothes, sit them on a chair and place a lit cigarette in their lips. The Caviteño, who live near Manila, bury their dead in a hollowed-out tree trunk. When someone becomes ill, they select the tree where they will eventually be entombed. Meanwhile, the Apayo, who live in the north, bury their dead under the kitchen.
Sky burial in Mongolia and Tibet. Many Vajrayana Buddhists in Mongolia and Tibet believe in the transmigration of spirits after death – that the soul moves on, while the body becomes an empty vessel. To return it to the earth, the body is chopped into pieces and placed on a mountaintop, which exposes it to the elements — including vultures. It’s a practice that’s been done for thousands of years but, according to a recent report, about 80% of Tibetans still choose it. [The Buddhist Channel]
Green funerals. In the United States, more and more people are opting for environmentally friendly burials. This means skipping embalming processes, mixing traditional concrete vaults and getting biodegradable, woven-willow caskets, which decompose into the ground. The Green Burial Council has approved 40 environmentally friendly cemeteries in the U.S. — way up from a decade ago. Another option: becoming a memorial “reef ball.” A company called Eternal Reefs compresses remains into a sphere that is attached to a reef in the ocean, providing a habitat for sea life. [Newsweek, Wall Street Journal]
The turning of the bones in Madagascar. The Malagasy people of Madagascar have a famous ritual called “famadihana” or “the turning of the bones.” Once every five or seven years, a family has a celebration at its ancestral crypt where the bodies, wrapped in cloth, are exhumed and sprayed with wine or perfume. As a band plays at the lively event, family members dance with the bodies. For some, it’s a chance to pass family news to the deceased and ask for their blessings — for others, it’s a time to remember and tell stories of the dead.
Aboriginal mortuary rites in Australia. When a loved one dies in Aboriginal society in Australia’s Northern Territory, elaborate rituals begin. First, a smoking ceremony is held in the loved one’s living area to drive away their spirit. Next a feast is held, with mourners painted ochre as they partake in food and dance. The body is traditionally placed atop a platform and covered in leaves as it is left to decompose. It has been reported that in some traditions, fluids from the platform can help identify the deceased’s killer.
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