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Funeral traditions around the world

Most of us know the drill. Wear black, take our seats, listen to the priest or celebrant, say goodbye to our loved one, and then proceed to a wake. Believe it or not, that’s not the way most cultures around the world say goodbye to the deceased. Not all cultures wear black to signify mourning and death. Other colours such as white, purple, gray, green and yellow also mark the passage of life. By reading this, perhaps you will gather ideas that you may start to incorporate into a funeral in the future or be glad that we have the traditions we do in the Western culture.

Jazz Funerals: New Orleans is known as a city of parades, so why would funerals be any different? Jazz Funerals celebrate life at the moment of death. A traditional Jazz Funeral came about due to a prominent member of the community, often a musician and a person of colour, buried with music. The funeral would usually begin with the mourners making loud cries and ended with noise and laughter then, the procession of the brass band would move from the funeral service to the burial site.

Sky Burials: In some parts of Tibet and Mongolia, Vajrayana Buddhists practice a ritual known as jhator, or sky burials, in which bodies of the deceased are dissected and the pieces are placed upon a mountaintop, where they are left for vultures to consume. The belief stems from the fact that the soul leaves the body immediately following the death and, in tradition, feeding the remains to the vultures is seen as the last token of charity to the earth the deceased can make. It is an age-old ritual practiced for thousands of years, and according to Pasang Wangdu of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, around 80% of Tibetans still opt for a sky burial today.

Aboriginal rituals: As there many Aboriginal communities, the traditions vary. In the Northern Territory when a loved one dies, 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, or clay pigments to produce colours such as red, as they partake in food and dance. The deceased body is traditionally placed atop a platform and covered in leaves as it is left to decomposed. It is the belief that once a person has passed, their spirit goes back to the Dreaming Ancestors if the correct ceremonies were conduced. It is important to note that the name of the deceased is not spoken however, a substitute name may be spoken in place.

Smoked Mummies: In Papua New Guinea’s Morobe province, the Menyamya region in particular, a tradition the Anga people perform involves smoke-curing the bodies of the dead and suspending the mummified remains in bamboo cages from cliff tops above villages. This is said to be the Anga peoples’ way of showing high respect for their departed. Several smoked mummies can be seen around the settlements of Askei and Watama, though the ritual is rarely practiced today.

Funeral strippers: In Taiwan, people are often judged by the size of their crowds and expense so, to increase crowd size at funerals, families often splurge on drum troupes and all-female marching bands that can cost upwards of $20,000. It is known that some families even hire trucks converted into brightly coloured, neon lit, mobile stages which strippers dance exotically upon and at the graveside of the deceased. Dancing along the graveside is to appease the wandering spirits to give them one last hurrah.