Fascinating Funeral Traditions

funeral traditions

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 the wake. But 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, grey, green and yellow also mark the passage of life. Here are some of the fascinating funeral traditions: 

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 practise 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 practised 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

The base of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies is the concept of community rather than the individual. This means that an experience of loss impacts on and changes whole communities as much as individuals within them. When someone passes away, the whole community comes together to share that sorrow. Through a process called Sorry Business (a period of cultural practices following the death of a community member), communities and individuals are able to properly mourn the loss of a loved one. Funerals are held after an extended period of a ceremony which can last a few days, weeks, or even months. 

Smoked Mummies 

In Papua New Guinea’s Morobe Highlands, the people perform a tradition that 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 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. This tradition, however, is getting banned in recent years.

Other helpful resources:

Funeral Customs Around The World
11 Fascinating Funeral Traditions

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