Around the world, funeral practices serve as markers of culture and tradition. Learning about the funeral practices of other cultures gives us rich insight into beliefs and values that vary from our own. From death beads to fantasy coffins, which of these seven unusual funerals would you choose?
1. Jazz funerals in New Orleans
Folks way down in New Orleans think the nicest funeral is one that strikes a balance between grief and joy. Making use of the boisterous jazz music that has become synonymous with the state, mourners are led by a marching band playing sorrowful dirges. But once the body is buried, the music lightens to an upbeat note and energetic dancing is performed, as both a form of catharsis and to commemorate the departed.
2. Death beads in South Korea
Because burial space is scarce, South Korean law stipulates that graves must be vacated 60 years after burial. As a result, cremation has become a popular choice. But families don’t always just keep the ashes – sometimes they have the remains compressed into gem-like beads in turquoise, pink or black and displayed at home.
3. Turning the bones in Madagascar
In a famous ritual called famadihana or ‘the turning of the bones’, every five to seven years the deceased is exhumed from the family crypt and showered with wine or perfume. A band plays and family members dance with the body over their heads. For some, this is a chance to ask for blessings, pass on news to the deceased and tell stories.
4. Burials in the sky in Mongolia and Tibet
In Vajrayana Buddhist philosophy, the body came from the earth and so must return to the earth upon death, so that the spirit can move on. In Mongolia and Tibet, the body is chopped into pieces and left on a mountain, decomposing into the earth and eaten by vultures. About 80 per cent of Tibetans reportedly still choose this funeral option.
5. Displaying the body in the Philippines
How would you like to remain on the porch after you die? In the Benguet province in the Philippines, family members are known to blindfold the deceased and place him or her beside the entrance of the house. The Tinguian people dress the deceased in their finest clothes, sit them in a chair and place a lit cigarette in their lips.
6. Environmentally-friendly funerals in the US
With environmental consciousness increasingly popular, more people in the United States are turning away from embalming processes, concrete vaults and lacquered coffins, and instead using biodegradable woven caskets, which decompose into the ground. A secondary option called a ‘reef ball’ sees the person’s remains compressed into a sphere that is attached to a reef in the ocean, providing a habitat for sea life.
7. Fantasy coffins in Ghana
In Ghana, the dream is to be buried in a coffin that represents your life work or something you love. Fantasy coffins, specially crafted from wood, can take the shape of just about anything: a Mercedes-Benz for a successful businessperson, a giant ear of corn for a farmer or a giant pig for a man whose business was selling pigs.