Throughout history, and around the world today, there are some markedly different funeral practices followed by different societies and cultures. Many people share broadly similar beliefs about what happens after death. Nonetheless, they have very different ways of commemorating the passing of a person who has died. Various funeral traditions from around the world are explored here. As time goes on, this list will be expanded. Therefore, consider checking back from time to time to learn even more about the unique funeral practices from around the globe.
Madagascar – The Malagasy People
The Malagasy people in Madagascar have a funeral tradition called Famadihana. This tradition is also known as the “turning of the bones.” Famadihana has adherents removing the bodies of their loved ones and ancestors from family crypts from time to time. The remains are put in fresh burial cloths. The height of this funerary tradition is live music is played at the crypt and family members dance with the corpses. After dancing, the remains are then carried around the village. The Famadihana funeral customs also have family members changing the clothing worn by deceased ancestors.
United States – Amish Communities of Pennsylvania and Iowa
During their lives, the Amish people live simply in somewhat insular communities. They shun modern conveniences, including electricity. Amish funerals reflect the simplicity of their lives. An Amish funeral typically occurs three days after death. The body is not embalmed unless state law requires it. The remains are dressed in simple white garments. The funeral itself is a two-hour affair, performed in Pennsylvania Dutch, that focuses on God and not the deceased. The only mention of the deceased person is a reference to his or her name, date of birth, and date of death at the end of the service. Burial is done in a simple pine coffin built by community members.
India – The Parsi Community of Mumbai
The funeral traditions of the Zoroastrian religion, as exemplified by the Parsi community in Mumbai, India, begins with the cleansing and bathing of the body of a deceased family member. The remains are then placed at the top of towers on temples in the community, leaving them intentionally exposed to vultures. The theory behind this ritualistic practice is that a deceased person’s physical form must be eliminated so that only their spiritual self survives.
Papua New Guinea and Brazil – Indigenous Populations
Cannibalism still plays a role in the funeral traditions of some indigenous tribes in Papua New Guinea and Brazil. The community gathers and consumes the remains of a deceased person. Fire and herbs tend to be utilized to make the practice at least somewhat more palatable.
United States – Cajun Culture of Louisiana
The Cajun culture of New Orleans and some other smaller locations in Louisiana celebrate what is commonly known as a jazz funeral when a loved one passes on. This funeral practice combines certain aspects of European and African cultures. The main feature of a Cajun jazz funeral is a procession from a church or funeral home to the cemetery during which dirges are played with a jazz flavor. Once the deceased individual is interred in a grave, the music becomes merrier and is designed to celebrate the person’s life.
China – Provinces of Tibet, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia
Sky burial remains a fairly widely followed funeral tradition, particularly in the Chinese provinces of Tibet, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia. Sky burial involves the chopping of a deceased body into small pieces. These pieces are then taken to a mountain top where they are exposed to the elements and animals, particularly birds. Sky burial is rooted in Vajrayana Buddhism which teaches the transmigration of spirits. Thus, a corpse is merely an empty vessel that needs to be disposed of as efficiently as possible.
Funeral traditions in Iran are complicated. They begin with the Islamic proscription that the remains of a deceased person must be buried within 24 hours of death. Directly after a person passes on the remains are washed nine times and then placed in a white shroud. The shroud and body are then tied in cords and placed in a coffin. Funeral traditions continue for a year, with the first milestone being on the third day from death. It is on this day that an oftentimes lavish memorial service is held. On the seventh day, the grave is visited and food is given to the poor. The family and other mourners stop wearing black on a fortieth day and a tombstone is placed. Similar traditions are followed in other Muslim nations.
Indian Subcontinent – Hindu Subcultures
The funeral practice known as Sati is still practiced by a very small number of Hindus on the Indian subcontinent. Technically, this practice was outlawed in India in 1861, however, it does still have some adherents today. Sati is a funeral custom in which the widow of a deceased man is obliged to take her life by setting herself on fire. She is called upon to willingly sacrifice herself in honor of her now-deceased husband.
Republic of Kiribati
The people of the Republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the Central Pacific, practice what is called “skull burial.” In fact, the term “skull burial” is something of a misnomer. This nation’s funeral practice includes opening a grave a few months after a deceased individual was buried. The skull is removed from the body at that time. Family members take the skull home, polish and display it the home. From time to time, offerings of food and tobacco are made to the well-tended skull.