Philippines hanging coffins
Philippines hanging coffins by Lastithegreat (CC BY-SA)

Fascinating Funeral Traditions Around the World

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Ghana okadi adekai fantasy coffins
Ghana okadi adekai fantasy coffins by René Edward Knupfer-Müller (CC BY-SA)

Dead Reckoning

Funeral traditions vary all across the world. Some are ancient religious practices, while others are new ideas made possible because of technological advancements over the past 50 years. One thing all funeral traditions seem to have in common, though, is taking a moment to honor the deceased — but in very different ways. From amputating fingertips to making a stew of the deceased’s ashes, here are 16 fascinating funeral traditions from around the world. 

 

Related: Strange Last Wishes: Funerals with Bizarre Twists

Musicians of "Algiers Brass Band" at jazz funeral, New Orleans.
Musicians of "Algiers Brass Band" at jazz funeral, New Orleans. by Infrogmation (CC BY)

New Orleans Jazz Funerals

New Orleans is filled with loud, happy musical events, and its funeral traditions are no different. The jazz funeral is a way to celebrate a person’s life while mourning their death. Jazz funerals start at funeral homes or churches and then lead to the burial plot at a cemetery. During the move, a brass band plays music ranging from Negro spirituals or dirges to happy, celebratory music, making everyone dance. 


Related: 50 Famous Gravesites and Cemeteries Around the World

Ghana okadi adekai fantasy coffins
Ghana okadi adekai fantasy coffins by René Edward Knupfer-Müller (CC BY-SA)

Fantasy Coffins

In Ghana, okadi adekai, or fantasy coffins, are beautiful, artistic, creative coffins representative of the deceased’s life, profession, or dream. These coffins were popularized back in the 1950s by a furniture maker named Kane Kwei. Today, his son Ernest Anang Kwei runs the business. There are currently about 10 fantasy-coffin shops in Accra, which are all owned by Kwei’s apprentices.

Philippines hanging coffins
Philippines hanging coffins by Lastithegreat (CC BY-SA)

Hanging Coffins

Hanging coffins are a tradition in some parts of the Philippines. Coffins hang from cliffs and mountains in a gravity-defying manner. This ritual has been practiced by the Igorot people for more than 2,000 years, with at least one cliff burial taking place as recently as 2010. This lofty method of burial is thought to bring the departed closer to their ancestral spirits.


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SAI SING Funeral Parlour
SAI SING Funeral Parlour by RockLi (CC BY-SA)

Funeral Strippers

In parts of China and Taiwan, funeral strippers are a common combination. Taiwanese funerals are often expensive and extravagant to show off your status in the community. The large public events often include strippers as a way to draw in larger crowds, which is also seen as a way to honor the dead. The practice isn’t as common in China today because it’s heavily restricted by the government.

Varanasi, India cremation
Varanasi, India cremation by Dennis Jarvis (CC BY-SA)

A Death Parade

Varanasi, India, a city along the Ganges River known for its silks and threadwork, is one of the holiest cities in the world for Hindus and is home to a unique funeral tradition. Death is on display in Varanasi, with funeral pyres shown openly along the river. Tourists can see giant smoke clouds because the bodies are cremated publicly while family members chant so the deceased's soul will reach nirvana. There are constant parades in the city to honor and celebrate death. Varanasi is so famous for this tradition that many people at the end of their lives travel to Varanasi to die. 


Related: What to Do When a Loved One Dies

Sky burial Tibet
Sky burial Tibet by BabelStone (CC BY-SA)

Sky Burials

In order to send a loved one toward heaven, it is a common Tibetan practice to cut a deceased person’s body into pieces and leave them outside on a tall mountaintop for the birds to eat. This is called a sky burial and allows the soul to leave the body while also providing food for the animals. This Tibetan Buddhist ritual represents a wish to go to heaven.

Famadihana Madagascar
Famadihana Madagascar by Nigel Hoult (CC BY)

The Turning of the Bones

Famadihana is a funerary tradition in Madagascar. Famadihana translates to “turning of the bones” and involves people carrying the bodies of their loved ones out of the crypts and rewrapping them in fresh cloth. The family members then write their names on the cloth, so they don’t forget them. This tradition allows for the younger generations to “meet” their ancestors.

Philippines Funeral Procession
Philippines Funeral Procession by moyerphotos (CC BY)

Funeral Posing and Blindfolding

There are a number of funeral traditions in the Philippines. The two that stand out the most are funeral posing and blindfolding the dead. In some parts of the country, when someone dies, they are often celebrated by dressing them in their best outfit and posing them with a cigarette between their lips. A more niche tradition is celebrated by the Benguet people. Once someone dies, they are blindfolded and made to stand near the home’s front door to protect the household. The blindfold makes it, so the deceased doesn’t have to see the suffering of the world anymore.

Iran Tower of Silence
Iran Tower of Silence by Maziart (CC BY-SA)

The Tower of Silence

The Zoroastrian community in Iran and India has a practice called Tower of Silence. When someone dies, they are put in the Tower of Silence. Because the community believes that humans are unclean, they put them in isolation towers exposed to the elements. Their exposure allows the human flesh to be eaten by vultures, causing the bodies to decompose more quickly, and this way, the bodies can return to the earth. It is very rarely done now, but there are still a few folks practicing the funeral tradition today.

Yanomami Woman & Child
Yanomami Woman & Child by Cmacauley (CC BY-SA)

Eating the Dead

While cannibalism isn’t common practice in most of the world, the Yanomami tribe from the Amazon honors the dead by consuming them. When a family member dies, they cremate their bodies and mix the ashes in with a specially prepared soup. The soup is consumed by the whole tribe. The Yanomami believe that eating the ashes of their loved ones will keep them and their spirit alive in the younger, surviving family members.

Celestis
Celestis

Space Memorials

A very new tradition when compared to the others, space memorials first started in 1997 through a company called Celestis. The new technology allows for new possibilities for funeral traditions. When a person dies, their body can be cremated and blasted to space in a rocket. This tradition isn’t tied to religion but is becoming more and more popular for fans of science fiction.

Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho
©TripAdvisor

Green Funerals

A newer funeral tradition, green funerals are a niche tradition in North America. Seen as a funeral alternative, green funerals are a way to honor the dead and the environment at the same time. Green funerals do not involve embalming techniques or chemicals and avoid harmful processes that would hurt the environment. Alternatively, people use biodegradable caskets or pods that will then grow and become a tree.

King of hearts
mediaphotos/istockphoto

Extreme Embalming

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a tradition of extreme embalming processes. This is so that the bodies appear in a more lifelike manner. Embalming started in America during the Civil War as a way to preserve the body for a longer period of time. Once the body is embalmed, family members can pose the body for one final hurrah before they’re buried. There are a variety of ways to pose the body, from a simple placement at the poker table, so it looks like the deceased is playing, too, or setting the body on their favorite motorcycle as though they’re going on a ride.

Looe Key Coral Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Looe Key Coral Reef National Marine Sanctuary by Phil's 1stPix (CC BY-NC-SA)

Reef Memorials

From deep space to the sea. Neptune memorials are another eco-friendly burial option for those who love the water. People can choose to be cremated and have their ashes made to be part of a living coral reef along the Florida coast. The ashes are blended with eco-friendly materials and concrete to create a fun shape, like an octopus, stingray, or turtle.

Ireland landscape
Ireland landscape by astrogator (CC BY-NC-ND)

Waiting to Cry in Ireland

While it isn’t really practiced anymore, the Irish used to believe that they shouldn’t cry over a deceased person until the body preparation was finished. The Irish believed that crying too soon would allow evil spirits to capture the body’s soul. Family and friends would wait for the body to be fully prepared, then one woman would cry and recite a poem. Once she started, other women would join in.

New Guinea
Kew

Finger Amputation

A popular funeral tradition in Papua, New Guinea, is for women to cut off the tips of their fingers after a funeral. This tradition is just for women and is done through a very careful amputation process. They amputate the fingers as a way to feel the trauma of loss in a physical sense. The finger is removed using an ax and a cauterization method, which will then form newly calloused fingers. Amputating a finger on the woman is a way to ward off any spirits of death as well.