7 unusual funeral traditions from around the globe
FUNERALS around here usually come with a pretty standard set of rules – wake, church service, a moving speech, burial, then a few pints at the local in celebration of those passed. But around the world, death rites come in every shape and form from the joyful to the downright morbid.
1. New Orleans jazz funerals
No one could ever say that the residents of the Crescent City don’t know how to party – even when it comes to burying its dead.
The jazz funeral emerged from the city’s mixing bowl heritage of West African, French, Caribbean and African American traditions and spans ethnic lines.
Starting off slow, a procession of mourners is led towards the cemetery while a brass band plays sombre hymns and dirges. The body is then “cut loose”, i.e. buried, in one of the city’s famous above-ground tombs.
Afterwards, friends and families of the deceased are led back into the street. But this time they dance in a second line in celebration of life to the sounds of the Big Easy’s upbeat and joyous jazz.
2. Custom coffins
Looking for a bit more than just a plain old pine box? Then consider the fantasy coffins of Ghana.
Residents of this West African nation have been sent off in style for decades thanks to an artistic and entrepreneurial carpenter, Kane Kwei, in 1950. Found mainly in the southern regions, the coffins are designed as objects to represent people’s professions or their passion – fishermen usually get giant fish, while car fanatics get a send-off in a Mercedes Benz. One customer was so devout, they were buried in a giant Bible.
The reason for these amazing caskets? Ghanaians, mainly the Ga people, believe that death is not the end and that things continue exactly the same in the afterlife. They also believe that their ancestors influence the lives of the living so anything they can do to make the dead happy, they’re on it.
3. The great Taiwanese funeral stripper
Most people in Taiwan think a funeral’s great if it’s super expensive, loads of people show up, and someone gets tinnitus from the volume of it all. But there’s always that one person who has to go above and beyond and hire strippers for granddad’s send off.
Funerals on the island are traditionally elaborate with miles-long processions of drums, marching bands, and mourners – all elements that contribute to the “renao” or hot and noisy, celebratory atmosphere desired by the deceased’s family. It’s also crucial for a large number of participants. What’s a surefire way to make that happen? Strippers.
But the Chinese government isn’t too keen on the practice – earlier this year, they enacted laws to prevent funeral stripping in eastern Chinese provinces.
4. Forget the casket
The Marin Funeral Home, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, can be described as … well, creative, at the very least – its speciality is creating funeral dioramas which involve posing an embalmed body right at the centre of it all. It’s called el muerto parao – dead man standing.
Not sure what we mean? In 2014, Christopher Rivera Amaro was shot dead. Per his requests, the amateur boxer wanted his funeral to celebrate his love of the sport. So funeral directors propped his body up in the corner of a makeshift ring and friends and family posed with Amaro one last time.
Despite being completely morbid, for many it’s one last chance to spend time with the deceased as they were in life.
Other customers included a keen biker hunched over his motorcycle and an 80-year-old grandmother relaxing in her favourite rocking chair.
5. Leading them out in style
Next time the occasion arises, you might want to consider hiring professional pallbearers for a touch of the unusual. Found mainly in African American communities in the South, professional pallbearers are provided by funeral homes.
These immaculately dressed men, in tails and white gloves, act as ushers, vocalists and pallbearers. When the time comes, they carry the coffin out with a “funeral step”, a tightly-choreographed, swaying walk set to gospel music.
Professional pallbearers have also been seen in Ghana and other African nations, dancing to honour and celebrate the deceased’s life.
6. Dance with the dead
Known as the turning of the bones, famadihana is a tradition of the Malagasy people of Madagascar.
What does it entail? Well, if you’ve ever wanted to see your nan again, you might want to consider it. Family members visit loved ones’ graves, dig out the bodies, give them a quick wipe down, and wrap them back up in fresh silks. Then, after all that, the families dance with the corpses to live music. Sounds like a regular good ol’ time.
The custom is based on the idea that once the dead are completely decomposed and given the appropriate rituals, they’re allowed to join their ancestors. For many, the event is also a time to remember and honour their loved one.
7. Don’t worry about an urn
The tiny nation of South Korea is running out of room to bury its dead. In 2000, the government passed a law stating that any body buried after that year would have to be removed and disposed of after 60 years. Because of that, cremation is the burial of choice for most Koreans nowadays.
But, for some, the classic ashes in an urn isn’t really enough. Instead, they’re opting to have the deceased’s ashes turned into beads – little, tiny, Beluga Caviar-like beads. In pink, bluish green and black, no less. Don’t worry – the beads aren’t then made into jewellery. Instead, they’re displayed in glass boxes or dishes around the house.