Funeral Traditions From Around The World
In Ireland, we’re somewhat famous for celebrating death and we have a long list of our own unique customs surrounding the traditional Irish Wake.
Covering mirrors, closing curtains and lighting candles beside the body of the deceased might seem routine to us but these are exclusive traditions that make Irish funerals special and unparalleled.
But it’s not just us Irish who have unique quirks when it comes to death rituals – almost every country, religion and culture has their own individual way of carrying out funerals, burials and celebrating death.
In film, TV and other media, we’re most used to seeing the traditional western funerals, where mourners dress in black, go to the church and grieve by the graveside as the body of the deceased is lowered into the ground. And indeed, as Irish people, this will most likely be the one kind of funeral we’re used to attending.
But in fact this representation does not accurately reflect how the majority of funerals around the globe are carried out and celebrated.
This is especially true in eastern nations, where Buddhism is the dominant religion and their very different outlook on life and the afterlife greatly shapes how death is commemorated.
At Kilternan Cemetery, we love hearing these traditions – particularly the ones that seem furthest from our own little local, western perception of ‘the funeral’. It’s fascinating to learn how different groups of people incorporate emotion, meaning and poignancy into their funeral customs.
And here are a few of our favourite ones from around the globe, which you may not be too familiar with.
South Korean ‘Death Beads’
Since the year 2,000 a law was passed requiring people to remove graves of their loved ones after 60 years, due to limited graveyard space. For this reason, cremation has become a more popular option in South Korea. However, for those who don’t select cremation, there are various companies that will compress the remains of the decease into colourful beads – also known as ‘death beads.’
New Orleans Jazz Funerals
Being famous for their legendary Jazz music, it’s no surprise that in New Orleans, Louisiana, it is incorporated into their celebration of death.
Many funerals in New Orleans will balance grief with joy in their jazz infused funeral processions; which blend West African, French and African American traditions and cultures. Music may start off sorrowful but soon erupts into something more joyous and boisterous and mourners will often dance in a cathartic way to celebrate the lift of the deceased.
Tree Trunk Burials, Blind Folds and Kitchen Graves in The Phillipines
The Phillippines have many diverse funeral traditions which vary from region to region and across the range of many ethnic groups.
For example, The Benguet from the North West blindfold the dead and place them outside the main entrance of the house. The Tinguain dress the dead in their best clothes, seat them in a chair and put a lit cigarette in their mouth.
The Caviteño close the Manila place the deceased in a hollowed out tree trunk which is personally selected when the person becomes ill. Meanwhile, the Apayo from the North bury their dead under the kitchen.
Mongolian Sky Burials
In Mongolia, Tibet and various Chinese provinces, there are many Vajrayana Buddhists believe in the transmigration of spirits. This means that after death, the spirit leaves the body, which becomes an empty vessel. Due to this belief, Sky Burials are common practice; where the body is placed on a mountain top or high ground where it can be exposed to the elements and left to decompose and be eaten by vultures and other animals. It’s a tradition that has been around for thousands of years and is still very common in many cultures.
Dancing With The Dead In Madagascar
“Famadihana” is a common tradition among the Malagasy people of Madagascar. Translated as ‘the turning of the bones’, it is a celebration that occurs once every five or seven years. Families will gather at their ancestral crypt, where the bodies are exhumed and sprayed with wine or perfume. It’s a lively celebration with a band playing to allow family members to dance with the bodies. It’s a time of commemoration and also a chance for family members to pass on news to the dead or get blessings.
Ghana’s Fantasy Coffins
In Ghana, some people choose to be buried in fantasy coffins that represent their interests. This custom received a lot of coverage in 2016, with international news outlets publishing pictures of the most extravagant designs; coffins shaped like Porches, Coca Cola bottles and animals started spreading around the internet. There was even a documentary produced about the country’s most prolific coffin artist. Since the custom was highlighted last year, many coffin designers from Ghana have begun exporting their incredible designs worldwide.
This stems from the belief that life does not end in physical death and, in fact, the dead may be more powerful than the living. Fantasy coffins are not only a way to celebrate the deceased but these coffins are now considered to be true works of art, being shown in art galleries and museums across the globe.
Taiwanese Funeral Showgirls
As we’ve seen from the examples above, in many cultures it is common practice to celebrate the dead rather than mourn them. However, certain groups of people in Taiwan have taken their celebration to new levels by having showgirls stripping for the dead to appease the wandering spirits. Although it is not a common tradition throughout the nation (in fact some find it to be scandalous and disrespectful), for those who partake, it is merely a way to send the deceased off with a smile.