- Historians have found burial grounds of Neanderthal man dating to 60,000 BC with animal antlers on the body and flower fragments next to the corpse.
- Some cultures choose to hold a life a celebration of life instead of a traditional funerals we know.
Various countries and cultures around the globe have some very… um… interesting ways of honouring their dead loved ones. These funerary ceremonies can often appear very bizarre to outsiders. We’ve already covered Victorian era post-mortem photography and safety coffins and Puerto Rican post-mortem staging, but what about other strange send-offs?
On the island of Sulawesi, when the Toraja people kick the bucket they are farewelled with a funeral that lasts for several days and involves the slaughter of bulls, swine and buffalo. The animals are put through trials of strength before the sacrifice. Every three years the Toraja exhume their loved ones, groom them and dress them up in new clothing. The stiffs are then paraded around the village as part of the Ma’nene festival, which translates to ‘Cleaning of the Corpses.’ The tribe believes this brings them closer to their deceased family members as well as bringing good fortune. When a Toraja baby dies they are placed in a hollowed out tree trunk known as a ‘Baby Tree’ so that their soul can become one with nature.• • •
Kiwi soldiers perform their traditional Maori ceremonial war dance Haka as a farewell for fallen colleagues in Afghanistan war.
Located in the Romanian village of Săpânța lies the Merry Cemetery, the only burial ground of its kind in the world. What makes this cemetery unusual are its bright, colourful tombstones and amusing epitaphs.
Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother in-law
Three more days should she have lived
I would lie, and she would read this cross
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
‘Cause if she comes back home
She’ll criticise me more
But I will surely behave
So she’ll not return from her grave
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!
The tombstones also feature paintings of the deceased and scenes from their lives. It was created in the spirit of the local belief that death is a moment filled with joy and anticipation for a better, eternal life.
Parsi Zoroastrians prepare their dead by cleansing and bathing them before leaving them atop a special structure called a Tower of Silence for carrion birds such as vultures to feast upon. The vultures can pick a corpse clean in a matter of moments. Exposure of the deceased is considered to be a person’s ultimate act of charity in that they give the birds sustenance. It is also thought to free the dead from their physical form so that they may embrace their spiritual selves.
When a Yanomami of the Amazon rainforest dies, his tribesmen first manifest a furious anger, since they believe that death is not natural, but caused by evil spirits. They then express their grief though weeping. In their final stage of sacramental mourning, they cremate the corpse and consume the ashes.
‘Sati’ is a Hindu funeral custom where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s pyre or commits suicide in another fashion shortly after her husband’s death. Once widespread, the practice has dwindled of late although it still occurs intermittently.
In Ghana people like to be buried in fantasy coffins – functional caskets that are half coffin, half work of art. These colourful, extravagant creations are made to represent something about the deceased’s life in the belief that death is not the end and that life continues in the next world in the same way it did on earth. The master craftsmen who create them can make any custom order. There are battleships, planes, pianos, cars, animals, Coke bottles, cell phones, cameras, guns - you name it!
Jazz funerals are a common sight in The Big Easy. As the name implies, music is a key focus. They are influenced by Louisiana’s colonial past, African spiritualism, African American Protestant and Catholic churches, black brass bands, Mardi Gras and Voodoo. Typically the funeral begins with a procession consisting of family, friends and a brass band, from the deceased’s home to the cemetery. Throughout the march sombre hymns are played. A change in the tenor takes place after the deceased is entombed, now the music changes to swinging spiritual numbers, then finally going into upbeat tunes like ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ There is raucous music and cathartic dancing as they celebrate the life of the deceased.
And then there are people who just can’t let go. Carl Tanzler dug up the grave of his love of life, using coat-hanger wire he fitted her skeleton back together and lived with his “corpse bride” for seven long years.
It’s a strange world, isn’t it? And death is the strangest part of it.