The New Orleans jazz funeral
This is one of the quintessential images of New Orleans, Louisiana: the loud and lively jazz funeral procession. New Orleans funerals strike a unique balance between joy and sorrow, the mourners being led by a band which plays sorrowful dirges to begin with, but once the body has been interred, the tunes take on a livelier note.
South Korea “pearls of the deceased”
In South Korea there is a law, passed in 2000, which obliges anyone who buries a loved one to remove the grave after 60 years. Shrinking cemetery space and this law have, between them, made cremation a more popular option. But families do not always want simple ashes, and several companies offer to transform the ashes into turquoise, pink or black pearl gems. These “pearls of the deceased” are kept on show in the home.
Funeral traditions in the Philippines
Many ethnic groups in the Philippines have their own unique funeral practices. Locals from the Benguet region in the north-west of the archipelago blindfold their deceased and position them next to the main door of the house, whilst the neighbours dress the body in their finest garments, sit them in a chair and place a lit cigarette in their mouths. Near Manila, the custom is to bury the dead in a hollowed-out tree trunk. When someone falls ill, they chose the tree they will ultimately be buried in. And the Apayo tribe from the north bury their dead underneath the kitchen floor.
Burials in Mongolia and Tibet
Many Vajrayana Buddhists in Mongolia and Tibet believe in the transmigration of the soul after death – the soul moves on; the body becomes merely an empty container. To return it to the soil, the body is cut into pieces which are placed on the top of a mountain to be consumed by vultures. This practice has existed for thousands of years and, as revealed by a recent report, around 80% of Tibetans still use this funeral tradition.
Eco-funerals in the USA
More and more people in the USA are opting for green burials. This means skipping embalming procedures, swapping traditional concrete vaults for coffins woven from biodegradable willow branches which decompose in the soil. The Green Burial Council, which has been in existence for 10 years, has approved 40 such burials in the USA. Another option is to become a memorial. A company called Eternal Reefs places the body in a sphere which is then anchored to an ocean reef, where it provides a habitat known as a “reef ball” for marine life.
Australia (Aborigine tradition)
Elaborate rituals are performed on the death of a loved one by the Aborigines in Australia’s Northern Territory. First, everybody smokes in the home of the departed loved one to chase his or her spirit out. Then there is a party, where the mourners paint their bodies with ochre, dance and partake of the funeral feast. The body is traditionally placed on top of a platform which is kept covered with leaves as the body decomposes.
Ghana, fantasy funerals
In Ghana, people want to be buried in coffins which somehow represent their profession or something they were passionate about during their lives. These so-called “fantasy coffins” recently became public knowledge through Buzzfeed, which showed images of coffins in shapes such as a Mercedes-Benz for a businessman, an enormous fish for a fisherman and a huge bible for a fervent church-goer.
“As odd as it may seem, the Balinese are never so joyous as when performing their cremation ceremonies.” In Balinese tradition, cremation frees the soul so it may seek a new body to inhabit, and therefore the ceremony is considered a sacred duty.
Dancing with the bones in Madagascar
The Malagasy people of Madagascar have a famous ritual called “famadihana” or “dancing with the bones.” Once every five or seven years, the family will hold a celebration in their ancestral crypt where the bodies, wrapped in fabric, are exhumed and sprinkled with wine or perfume. Then a band plays while members of the family dance with the skeletons. For some, this is an opportunity to pass on family news to the deceased and ask their blessing, whilst for others it is a time for remembering the deceased person and recounting stories about them.
Soup of ashes for the Amazon Yanomami tribe
Believe it. They eat the ashes of their dead, but only if they were good and decent people when alive. If the body does not burn completely, for the Yanomami this is a clear sign that the deceased person did wrong during their life…and there won’t be any ashes to eat.
The Yanomami tribes, who inhabit extensive areas of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Venezuela, have an interesting ritual or Death Ceremony Tradition.
In Yanomami society, the female members of the family and tribe must mourn the passing of the dead member. If the rituals are not performed correctly or the body does not burn completely, it is because the deceased person did something bad in their lifetime.
The morning after the death, female members of the tribe blacken their cheeks to show their grief and begin keening for the dead person.
When they finish their laments, the deceased’s belongings are burned along with the body.
Then the tribe returns to its normal daily activities.
One month after a member of the tribe dies, the Yanomami organise a funeral feast at which the ashes of the deceased person are mixed into a plantain soup and consumed by family members.