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A committee of vultures perched on rocksDeath has been a popular topic of study and debate throughout history for all peoples of the world. Customs surrounding mourning, funerals, and burial can vary greatly from one place to another. Though the practices from elsewhere can seem strange or outright bizarre, traditions have symbolic meanings or are crucially related to the healing process. Explore these customs to learn more about the various ways people cope with death.  

The Turning of the Bones

Not all funeral customs involve burying a body and leaving it at that. In fact, there are many places all over the planet where exhuming a body is a natural part of the process. This is true in Madagascar, where the practice of Famadihana is conducted by the Malagasy people. Once every seven years, families will dig up the bodies of dead family members. Known as the “turning of the bones,” the ritual involves sharing stories of the deceased and spraying the bodies down with wine. In this way, the memories of the departed are never truly lost to time.

A Steep Price for Loss

Some customs are no longer practiced, though the traditions carried on for centuries. One such ritual in Papa New Guinea involved cutting off one’s own fingers after a loved one’s death. The relatives of someone who died, such as a man’s wife and children, would each be tasked with cutting off one of their own fingers. The idea here was to ward off bad luck by offering the severed finger as a way of driving away any evil spirits that might be found. Though it fell out of practice years ago, it is now considered outright illegal in the country. 

Eco-Friendly Burials

Near the city of Manila in the Philippines can be found the Caviteño people. This tribe has many specific customs when it comes to death, the most prominent being tree burials. Long before a person dies, he or she will select a tree nearby to call “home” after death. When the person passes away, his or her body is placed within the hollowed-out trunk of the tree. Another tribe of the Philippines, the Apayo, sometimes practices burying the dead under the floor in the kitchen. Though more involved than a tree burial, a kitchen burial keeps the departed close.

The Circle of Life

All that lives must die. This is a rule of nature and it is one with purpose. When organic matter dies, it feeds other organic matter and continues the endless cycle of life on the planet. Some cultures are very in tune with this philosophy and will practice customs that directly involve the food chain. This can be found in the  Zorastrian funeral practice of feeding the dead to vultures. As these birds are already interested in picking at the remains of the dead, feeding the deceased to the vultures in such a way allows the departed to nourish the natural world.

Go As You Lived

In America and similar places, the funeral business has become its own industry. In Ghana, however, that mentality is taken to entirely new heights. Throughout the country, it has become customary for people to commission elaborate, customized coffins. The idea is for a person to be buried in a way fitting of how he or she lived. From giant soccer balls to fancy shoes, there have been coffins designed to look like all kinds of different items of significance. In many cases, a person will have the coffin designed to reflect his or her own chosen profession in life.

Though death can be a heavy or complicated topic to deal with, it is far from a new concept. By exploring various funeral customs and rituals from around the world, you can develop a better understanding of how people have always come together to celebrate life in spite of death. 

Category: Funeral

funeral grief tradition

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