The way in which people choose to commemorate the life of a loved one, or mourn the loss of a life celebrating death, is ever evolving. In the Western world, funerals and memorials are often organised as highly formal and composed events based within a Church or religious establishment.
In many traditional funerals, the focus seems to be more on death, rather than the life of the individual. Despite these traditional views that many of us still possess, there are plenty of cultures around the world that celebrate death, and that alone should make us rethink our distanced relationship to the other realm.
The term ‘death positivity’ has started being used a lot these days, this essentially means: that speaking about death and experiences related to the deaths of others, is actually very important and highly positive for us as individuals and a society as a whole. We need to rethink the conversations, and taboos that surround death.
This would allow us to more fully live our own lives, and approach the death of our loved ones differently. If you need a little inspiration, and want to learn how other people celebrate life, and death, read on.
Death is without doubt one of life’s inevitabilities, nevertheless, the traditions that surround death are far from inevitable. This is due to the influence of culture and religion on the rituals we rely on when a person passes away. The differences in funerary customs around the world are intriguing, but even more fascinating, are the unusual similarities that unite us at the end of life.
Here, in this blog post, we take you on a journey around the world discovering some of the funeral and death celebration traditions from all over the globe, to see just how individual the grieving process can be but how it ultimately brings us together in a unified celebration of life.
New Orleans – Jazz Funeral
In the city of New Orleans, one of the esteemed funeral traditions is that of the jazz funeral procession. Enthusing cultural traditions from West Africa, France, as well as African-American traditions, these funerals bring together experiences and sentiments of grief and celebration, as the funeral mourners are lead by an elaborate procession of a marching band. Typically, a jazz funeral is lead by the family and friends of the deceased, and a huge brass band. The procession journeys from the home, funeral home or place of worship, to the cemetery.
The march starts with the band playing slower melancholic music, such as hymns for the mourners. The tone of the procession eventually leads to one of joy, after either the deceased is buried, or the hearse leaves the procession and members of the procession say their last goodbye (or ‘cut the body loose,’ as it is referred to). Once the body is cut loose, those taking part in the procession will often begin to dance. Onlookers may take part as well, celebrating the life of the deceased together. Some choose to follow behind, simply listening to the band – these are referred to as ‘second line’. they take part in a style of dancing which often involves twisting a parasol or handkerchief in the air.
Bali – Cremation
Ngaben is a funeral practise performed in Bali to deliver the deceased into the next life.
Throughout this Buddhist ceremony, the body of the deceased will be put on display as if they are asleep, and the family will carry on treating the deceased as if they are alive. Absolutely zero tears are shed, this is because the deceased is only temporarily absent and will be reincarnated and find enlightenment.
The climax of a Ngaben is the burning of the coffin. The fire is symbolic of the freeing of the spirit from the body, allowing them to be reincarnated. For members of the elite classes, it is normal to carry out the ritual individually for the deceased within days of their death. However, for the less privileged, the deceased is often buried first, then later cremated with other dead in a mass ceremony. Because of the religious nature of this ceremony, those who help are honoured to do so, and see it as a sacred duty.
Madagascar – Bone Turning Ceremony
Famadihana is a crucial funerary tradition of the Malagasy people based in Madagascar. This is also referred to as ‘the turning of the bones’. Every five to seven years the Malagasy people remove the bodies of their ancestors from their family crypts and wrap the bodies in fresh cloth, they dance with the corpses around the tomb to live music. The basis of this tradition is that the spirits of the dead only move on to the afterlife once their body is completely decomposed, and once appropriate ceremonies are carried out until this happens.
The custom ties together extended families as a way of cementing, and celebrating family ties. The bodies, coated in cloth, are exhumed and sprayed with home brew wine or perfume. As the music plays, family members dance with the bodies. This ceremony allows people tell important family news to the deceased and ask for blessings, but it is also a time to remember and tell stories of the dead.
Mexico – Dia de Muertos
Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an occasion that goes back to the Aztec Empire. Over the years, it has blended in with the Catholic holiday, All Souls’ Day, to establish a colourful celebration of the dead.
On this occasion, family and friends come together to pray for and remember those who have died, and to celebrate their journey into the afterlife. People will go to cemeteries, and build miniature shrines or altars containing their favorite items, food or drinks as well as photos and personal items that belonged to them.The main reason these traditions happen is to encourage the souls of the dead to be present, so they might hear the prayers and stories the living are saying. The day also has a fun and light-hearted atmosphere, as the living recall entertaining tales about the deceased. Due to this, the seriousness of the holiday depends on the individuals involved. For some, it is a day of fun and happiness, and for others it is a day of solemn remembrance.
T & I Stockman – We Provide Funeral Services and Funeral Plans in Torbay
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is stressful for anyone to deal with. Many people have no idea how to start arranging funeral services. We recommend that you get in contact with us at a time of your convenience so that we can help you begin the process of organising the funeral. We can organise funerals anywhere, including churches, crematoriums and burial grounds. However you may also wish to consider a funeral at one of our private Service Chapels.
The experienced team at Stockman & Loram in Paignton and Brixham, work hard to make sure that every funeral service is totally personalised. We will work with you and your family to reflect the life of your loved one being remembered. We can organise non-religious funerals, traditional church services, cremations at Torquay and Exeter Crematoriums or spoken services at cemeteries and green burial sites like Conqueror Wood in Torquay and Sharpham Burial Ground near Totnes. Get in touch with our friendly team to find out more, they’ll be happy to help.