Death is always hard on everyone and every community has its way of mourning their deceased. Paying respects for most people involves burying or cremating the dead at an agreed-upon time then allowing everyone to disperse keeping their memory of the deceased in their own way. In other communities, burial is not that simple. Among the Malagasy people of Madagascar for example, burial is not over until the death is exhumed at one point and the loved ones get to dance with the bones. In Ghana, some communities will bury you in a coffin-shaped like your fantasy while you were alive, say an aeroplane-shaped coffin if you wanted to be a pilot.
The Sky Burial
In Tibetan Buddhism, death is not considered the end of life, it is considered a transition into another life. They believe that the soul needs to be freed from the dead body to be allowed to transition smoothly to another life which is why they prefer to have the flesh eaten away to free the soul as quickly as possible.
When someone dies, the body is wrapped and kept for about five days without being disturbed during which funeral arrangements and other rites are performed on it. After the monks have prayed over the dead, the body is taken to a burial site high up in the mountains where they then attract vultures using a special type of smoke to come and eat the remains. Vultures are believed to be holy birds. As the vultures eat the body, the monks continue to pray to believe the soul is transitioning.
The Tree Trunk Burial
Trees are essential to human life and most of them give their life to save humanity but very few people consider using their dead bodies to save trees. The Caviteno people in the Philippines have been doing this for years though. When a person in this community is about to die from sickness or old age, they go to the forest and select a tree where they would like to be buried.
The family members and friends then build a small hut for the person near the particular tree where they then live out the rest of their days. The community comforts the person as they hollow out a section of the tree’s trunk to bury the person inside. When the person dies, they are buried vertically into the trunk and the spot is sealed off.
Dancing With The Dead (Famadihana)
Many communities around the world believe that the dead are a connection between the living and the gods. In Madagascar, many communities believe so too, except for them, the dead are never gone until their bones have completely decomposed. So, every five to seven years, the people will exhume their loved ones’ remains, wrap them in new traditional burial sheets and dance around with them as they drink and celebrate.
The ceremony happens on any chosen day when multiple ancestors are exhumed from the community crypt, wrapped in new burial garments then reburied before the sun sets after the ceremony. The re-burial involves turning over the bones from the position they were in before and that is what they call Famadihana (Turning over the bones)
The practice of compressing the ashes of a dead person into jewellery is common in many places. It allows the living to move around with a piece of their loved ones forever and that is a great way to keep memories. In South Korea, cremation is the most preferred way of delivering final rites to the dead since burial space is scarce and expensive.
South Korea was running out of burial space by 2,000 so the government passed a law stating that every grave has to be removed after 60 years. Many people chose to turn their loved ones into more beautiful memories by having their ashes turned into beads of whatever colour they wanted. The process is expensive but effective. The beads are not used as jewellery though, they are just stored in contains or on dishes in the house.
The Zoroastrian Tower Of Silence
The Zoroastrian burial is similar to the sky burial in many ways including the fact that vultures get to eat the remains of the dead at the end of it. Zoroastrians believe that a dead body contaminates anything it touches so the living are not allowed to touch one.
The body is also not allowed to touch the three elements which are earth, water and fire. Cremation is therefore not an option. When someone dies, specialists are invited to cleanse it with bull urine. It is then taken to these raised towers known as the towers of silence where it is allowed to decompose as it is consumed by vultures and other carnivorous birds.
The Dani tribe in Western Papua New Guinea has a rich cultural history with lots of respect for their dead. If a member of the family dies, the living pay their respects in many ways including smoking the dead body to mummify them. The mummies are then kept as a memory. Another ritual is called ikipalin which involved amputating a finger of someone whose close relative had died. The practice was mostly conducted on the female members when a spouse or another family member died although some men did it too. The practise has since been banned by the government.
The Hanging Coffins
Most communities preferred burying the dead underground. However, others believed that the higher someone is buried, the closer they are to the spirits. One of those communities is the Igorot tribe in the Philippines. Here, once someone died, a sacrifice would be made in the form of three pigs and two chickens or two chickens and one pig depending on what the family can afford. The number had to be three or five, no even numbers here. The body’s bones would then be broken and shaped like a fetus so that the person would go the same way they came into the world. The body would be put in a wooden coffin then tied or nailed onto the side of a huge rock or cliff high above the ground. The practice is still done by some people but it has faded due to the wide adoption of Christianity.
While some preferred to feed their loved ones to the vultures, others chose to feed on them as a way of connecting forever with the dead. Endocannibalism is not eating the remains of your loved one for survival. It involves consuming a part of someone’s flesh believing that you are taking up one or more positive attributes of the deceased.
Until recently, the Fore Tribe in Papua New Guinea still conducted the practice with women and children encouraged to eat the brains of dead elders and other men in the community to absorb their wisdom. They also ate other parts of the body depending on the attribute the person wanted to inherit from the dead person.
Fantasy Coffin Burials
So, if you were planning to be a pilot one day, then you die before you get your pilot’s license, does your dream end there? Well, not really. Not if you meet the fantasy coffin makers of Ghana. They create coffins in different designs from buildings to ships depending on what the family of the deceased request. They believe that life transcends death and that you can still do whatever you wanted to do or enjoyed doing while alive, in death. These coffins can be expensive but the families believe that they are giving their loved ones the best gift they can afford in death. If you think this Lucozade coffin is crazy you should check out these ten weird and wonderful coffins from around the world.
Burying Banana Stems Instead Of The Dead
So, most of these funeral rites are only possible because the family members have a body they can bury. What if there is nobody to bury? Among the Luhya people of Western Kenya, the absence of a body doesn’t mean the absence of a burial. The funeral still happens but if the loved one drowned and the body wasn’t recovered or say someone died too far away from home to be brought back for burial the family will simply use a banana stem to represent the deceased. The burial then continues as usual and the banana stalk is awarded all the respects the deceased’s body would have received.