Although death and funerals are one of the common denominators in human life, the customs and traditions around it are not. With the influence of culture and religion, there is a world of different funerary customs that we have never even heard of.
For most of us, funerals might all be the same – close family and friends gathering together dressed in black in a chapel or church, where prayers are said, memories are shared, and tears are shed. But for others, death is not the end.
In light of Harmony Day, an acknowledgement of our multi-cultural communities, here are three fascinating funeral traditions from around the world.
Traditional Buddhist Wake
Buddhists widely regard death as part of a continually repeating cycle of life where the spirit goes onto reincarnation. During the ceremony, attendees are dressed in white cloths and wrap it around their heads. The ceremony is referred to as a “wake” which is guided by a monk and can last up to a week. A photo of the deceased is placed as a centrepiece and an altar is formed around it adorned with candles, buddha statues and food and fruit offerings.
Traditional African Ritual
Funeral rituals in Africa revolve around reverence of ancestors and honouring the lives of the deceased. The ritual serves a rite of passage for the spirit and preparing it for the next chapter of life – the afterlife. These rituals are seen more as a celebration rather than mourning involving a procession to the burial site with singing and dancing.
Sky Burials in Tibet
Many Tibetan Buddhists believe in the transmigration of spirits after death where the soul moves on into the afterlife – leaving the physical body as an empty vessel. An ancient practice of Tibetan sky burials lies the deceased atop a high peak such as a mountain to be consumed by vultures and other birds of prey. This serves a symbolic purpose that represents the impermanence of life, that the spirit has already moved towards reincarnation.