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Funeral Burial Rituals from Around the World

Funeral Burial Rituals from Around the World

Death is an inevitable part of the cycle of life. Still, it is a difficult experience when we lose the people we care about.

Dealing with grief is unique to each individual. 

We all have our ways of coming to terms with such a massive loss. Similarly, there are many ways to be farewell to a dead loved one. 

The most common ways are by planning a vigil or wake. 

You can also hold a for a memorial in the case of cremation. These, however, are barely a drop in the vast ocean of burial rituals undertaken around the world. 

Some of these rituals are unique and bizarre. 

In this post, we discuss a few of the unique burial rituals that take place in different parts of the world, as well as their meanings.

Antyesti, India.

The term Antyesti translates to “the last sacrifice”. 

It is a common Hindu funeral tradition, whose rituals vary based on the caste, gender, and age of the deceased.

Generally, the rituals involve the cremating of the body and its ashes spread across the sacred river.

The ritual usually begins with the recitation of mantras and sacred texts that are performed by the priest. 

This usually takes place when a person is almost dying or immediately after they die.

 The dead body is then immediately transferred to the cremation ground that is normally located close to a river or sacred water body. 

Here the eldest son of the deceased and the priest perform the final rites before the body is cremated. 

The immediate family then performs certain rites like setting out a bowl of milk or offering rice balls. 

These rites are believed to provide the naked soul of the deceased with a spiritual body that allows them to pass on to the next life. 

After that, the family continues to perform certain rites called shraddha, at specific times to honor the deceased.

Burial Beads, South Korea

Given the high and rising population in South Korea, there is no longer any space to bury the dead. 

As a result, cremation has become a popular burial method in the country.

Instead of keeping the ashes in an urn, South Koreans go the extra mile of turning the ashes into decorative beads, placing them in jars or open plates, and using them as centerpieces in the house.

The process of creating the beads first starts by cremating the body. Even the bones are crushed either by hand or passed through a machine. 

The resulting ash is normally a uniform texture and grey color.

The ashes are then sent to companies that specialize in turning ashes into beads. 

Usually, minerals are added to the ashes and they pass through intense heat to form the beads.

The beads come in a variety of colors from black to turquoise or even pink. It depends on the family’s preference. 

It’s a great alternative to placing the ashes in an urn and it leaves the family with a beautiful keepsake of the deceased.

Caviteno Tree Burial, Philippines 

This is an interesting burial ritual performed by the Caviteno people in the Philippines. 

These people see trees as a source of life that gives them fruits and firewood. For this reason, they use it to bury their dead, as a symbol of giving back to the tree.

The ritual begins when a person is about to die. He or she chooses a tree in the forest, where the family members build a hut at the base of the tree. 

The person then lives there until they die.

During the period before they die, the family and friends come to hollow out the tree trunk of the standing tree. 

Once the person dies, the family entombs them in the tree. It is believed that the deceased nourish the tree that in turn continues to nourish the people of Caviteno.

Charon’s Obol, Ancient Greece.

This burial ritual originated from ancient Greece and was passed on to Greece, Rome, and even early Christian Europe. 

The ritual involved a symbolic coin known as Obol, which was considered a 1/6 of a drachma. It was either made of copper or brass. 

The Obol was also called Charon’s coin. Charon was the ferryman who was believed to transport the dead to Hades. 

The ancient Greeks placed the obol or a symbolic coin of similar weight on the deceased, either on their eye or tongue. 

The coins were believed to be paid the dead would use to pay Charon for safe passage into the next world. 

Obols were also considered as one of the artifact currencies in the underworld. Therefore, the dead could use them in the afterlife.

Today, a small percentage of Greeks use the coins in their burials. They either place it on the dead before burial or on the ashes after cremation. 

Others also place it in the urn with the ashes.  

Famadihana, Madagascar.

Famadihana, Madagascar

This is a ritual practiced by the Malagasy people, a predominant ethnic group in Madagascar. Famadihana is also called Dancing with the bones or turning the bones. 

It is a very important funeral ritual meant to honor the dead. 

The Malagasy people conduct this ritual every few years during dry winter months.

The ritual entails the family members visiting their family tombs. There they recover the remains of the deceased and clean them, before wrapping them with fresh clothes. 

The name of the deceased is then re-written on the clothes so they aren’t forgotten. 

During the ritual, music is played all around the tomb and people dance in celebration and honor of their ancestors.

According to the Malagasy, the dead never really leave this world immediately after death. They believe that their spirits can pass to and from both worlds. 

As a result, the family members have to care for the dead until they pass on to the next life. 

That is when their body reunifies with the earth. That is why they celebrate the Famadihana, as a time for families to honor, care for and show love to their ancestors. 

Fantasy Coffins, Ghana.

Fantasy burials are mostly observed amongst the Ga people in southern Ghana. 

They believe that life continues in the afterlife just as it did on earth. 

They also believe that their ancestors have great power to influence the living, hence family members appease the dead to ensure they remain in their favor. 

For this reason, the dead are buried in unique elaborate coffins that say something about them. 

The coffins either depict the profession of the deceased, their most treasured possession, or a fantasy they had while alive. It could be anything as long as it is related to the deceased.

These coffins are made by specialized carpenters. 

The Kane Kwei Carpentry Shop is especially famous for making these coffins. They are only seen on the day of the burial when the deceased is being buried. 

They are a fun way of celebrating the life of the deceased and making their fantasies come true.

Funeral Strippers, China, Taiwan

When you think about a funeral, often the emotions related to it are melancholic. 

Yet in places like Taiwan and some areas in China, during funerals, families hire strippers and exotic dancers to entertain the crowd.

It is believed that the practice was started in Taiwan and later adopted in some parts of China. 

The ritual was believed to have started because the Taiwanese, attached a lot of importance to the turnout of the crowd during a funeral. 

Therefore, to get a lot of people to attend, families would hire strippers and set out huge feasts. Others, however, believe that the practice was started during the time gangs dominated the funeral industry in Taiwan. 

They would offer the strippers from their clubs discounted offers to the mourners. Whichever the case, the Chinese government has been trying to curb the bizarre ritual in China. 

Hanging Coffins, The Philippines

Hanging Coffins, The Philippines

This is another burial ritual practiced in the Philippines by the Igorot tribe. The ritual involved hanging coffins by nailing them to the side of the cliff. 

It was believed that by doing so the spirits of the dead were closer to the spirit world. 

It was also believed that the ritual began because the ancestors were afraid of being buried in the ground since the water in the soil would cause their remains to rot quicker. 

The ritual involved wrapping the body like a basketball and carrying it to the side of the cliff. 

During the procession there, people would try to grab and carry the body. This is because they believed that the fluid of the dead body touching a living person, was a sign of good luck. 

It was a way of the deceased’s skills and knowledge being passed on to the living. At the cliff, the body would be placed in a fetal position on a coffin that wasn’t more than one meter long. This was because Igorot believed that a person should leave the world the same way they came. 

The coffins were then nailed to the side of the cliff and left to hang.

This ritual has also been observed in some parts of China and Indonesia. 

It is, however, a dying ritual among the Igorot, who are adopting the modern ways of burying their dead.

Jade Burial, Han Dynasty China

The Jade suit was a special burial ritual known to have been practiced in China during the reign of Han dynasty. 

The ritual involved burying the dead body in suits made of jade.

The jade was cut into small rectangular and triangular pieces and sewn together using metal wires like gold or silver. 

The suit covered the body entirely.

Jade was believed to have protective and preservative qualities. As a result, the suits were used to protect the bodies of the deceased from decaying. 

They were also seen as armors in the afterlife. They were, however, expensive and tedious to make. 

One suit even for a skilled Jade smith would take several years. Therefore, this method of burial was preserved for the rich and royal who could afford it. 

The practice was, however, stopped because it encouraged looting, where people would raid the tombs, burn the suits, and steal the gold or silver wires. 

Jazz Funeral, New Orleans

Another fun funeral ritual is the jazz funeral that happens in New Orleans.

This is a place known for its love of music and bighorn playing culture. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that they play music even during funerals. 

The ritual involves a procession of a band, family members, friends, and funeral directors, walking from the funeral home to the cemetery. 

At first, the band will play sad tunes. 

Later it would play some upbeat blues and jazz tunes. 

In culmination, they would play upbeat tunes for rigorous dancing. 

Passersby are usually encouraged to join the procession and celebration as long as they did not cause any trouble.

Usually, the jazz funerals were reserved for musicians or prominent people in the community. 

It was, however, allowed for anyone to request one. They believed that music was an integral part of both life and death and should therefore be a part of the service.

Kiribati Skull Burial, The Republic of Kiribati in the Central Pacific

As a funeral ritual, the people of Kiribati were known to perform the skull burial. 

After a person’s death, the body would be preserved with flowers and perfumes. Their body would also be rubbed with coconut oil to keep it smelling nice. 

This was because the body was kept in the house for 3-12 days for the wake.

During this time family and friends would come and pay their respects. They would read eulogies or offer food and coins to the deceased. 

After the wake period was over, the body would be buried at a local cemetery or near the deceased’s home.

After several months, the remains would be exhumed and the skull would be removed. It is polished and oiled and displayed in the house. 

The family would offer food and tobacco to it. 

The widow and children would eat and sleep near it and carry it with them where they went. 

If the teeth fell off, they would be made into necklaces. 

After several years the skull would be reburied with the body or with the top sticking out.

Memento Mori, Victorian England

The term Memento Mori translates to “remember death”. 

It was a bizarre funeral practice during the Victorian era. During this period there was a high mortality rate, especially of infants.

It was also a time when photography had just started developing. 

Due to the fascination with death during that era, people would take postmortem photos of the dead with the living family members. 

They were called “Spirit photos”

They were to serve as a reminder that everyone must die. It was a philosophy that involved reflecting on your death. 

This was meant to improve you spiritually and help you let go of earthly vanities. 

Parsi Tower of Silence, Iran, and India.

This is a funeral tradition practiced by the Parsis, a tribe that migrated from Iran (then Persia) to India.

The ritual also goes by the name Zoroastrian Vulture funeral. 

The ritual started with prayers and chants for the spirit of the deceased. The body is then washed with bull’s urine and placed in the tower of silence where the vultures would devour them.

The Parsis believed that dead bodies would defile and pollute anything they touched including the earth. 

So, to prevent this they were offered to scavenging birds as a way of disposing of the body.

Today, however, the vultures are scarce and other birds like crows are not as effective in devouring the bodies. 

As a result, the Parsis have started using solar concentrators to dry up the bodies. 

Still, the concentrators are limited by the presence of sunlight and can only work on at most 50 bodies at a time.

Sky Burial, Tibet

Sky Burial, Tibet

This is a common burial practice in Tibet among Buddhists.

In Buddhism, corpses are either meant to be cremated or given up to animals to sustain them as a form of charity. 

Because there aren’t enough woods in Tibet for cremating, offering the bodies to animals became a popular method of disposal.

As part of the ritual, the bodies would be cut up into small pieces and left outside at the top of hills to be eaten by vultures.

Once the vultures picked the bones clean, they were collected, ground and fed to crows. 

The bodies were considered empty vessels that were meant to be disposed of since the spirit was believed to have left and gone to heaven.

Conclusion

Most countries or tribes have different beliefs when it comes to death. These beliefs are what inform their burial and funeral rituals. 

As a result, these rituals may differ from country to country. 

Although most countries around the world have begun adopting the western funeral rituals of cremation and burying, some cultures still maintain their rituals.