Death is something all cultures, religions, and people have in common. As in life, however, the traditions that accompany death and the handling of the deceased can differ vastly. From coffins hanging from cliffs to making beads from the ashes of the deceased, these traditions are unique to the cultures and religions they are a part of.
The first tradition isn’t too odd and makes a lot of sense in our global efforts to go green. It started in the USA with the creation of biodegradable woven-willow caskets. These can decompose into the ground. In England, these natural burials include not embalming the body and the caskets can also be made from seagrass or coco stick that don’t pollute the air when cremated. This tradition has spread to South Africa, and at Sonja Smith Funeral Group you can request such a natural burial.
Hanging from a cliff
The Igorot People in Sagada (Northern Philippines) live in a very mountainous region, and it makes sense that their traditions would include the natural landscape and its heights. They believe that the body’s spirit can reach a higher nature in the afterlife if they are physically higher up and closer to the sky. As a result, coffins are “hung” from the side of the cliff (placed on metal beams fixed onto the cliff face) or placed in the caves there. This tradition has been practiced for thousands of years and so, many of the coffins are very old. As they deteriorate, they can fall from their place. These burial sites can, respectfully, be viewed when you visit the area.
The turning of the bones
Visiting the grave of a loved one is done in many countries, but none do it quite like the Malagasy people in Madagascar. In a tradition known as Famadihana (the turning of the bones), family members of the deceased will gather once every five to seven years to remove the body from the family crypt, rewrap it, and write the name on the shroud. They then proceed to dance with the corps atop their head to live music around the tomb before returning it. In this manner, they celebrate the life that was lived. This tradition comes from the belief that the spirit of the dead only joins the world of the ancestors once the body has completely decomposed, and the appropriate ceremonies were held. This can take many years. The practice is on the decline, and the government has forbidden this practice for people that died of plague as they believe it is connected to the transmission of pneumonic plague in the region.
In South Korea, cremation is very popular due to the limited space for graves and a 2000 law requiring a grave to be removed after 60 years. The tradition that stemmed from it is to transform the ashes into shiny blue-green, pink, or black beads and then display them in the home on dishes or in glass containers. This has been a practical solution to a problem faced in South Korea and while it might seem unusual to many (the practice did not gain popularity when they tried to launch it in the USA), South Koreans feel the beads have a holiness and warmth to them.
Strike up a beat
A funeral is often a sombre affair, but in New Orleans this is usually not the case. New Orleans is a city known for its uniqueness – its music, food, and culture (just think Mardi Gras). It goes without saying that their funeral traditions will also be unique. In this city, a jazz band will often lead the procession to the cemetery while playing sombre dirges and hymns. When the deceased has been buried, the music changes to become much livelier and a party vibe kicks off as the family celebrates the life of their deceased loved one.
Some of these funeral traditions might seem odd to us, but there is beauty in the livings’ desire to respect and honour the deceased in the ways that are meaningful to them. You might also have a very specific way in which you wish to remember and honour your loved one when the time comes. At Sonja Smith Funeral Group, we will see to it that your wishes are adhered to with care, compassion and dignity.