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Saying Farewell
Funeral Traditions Across Cultures

Saying Farewell
  • The Burial of the Dead : A Pastor's Comp... (by )
  • Pulpit and Grave ; A Volume of Funeral S... (by )
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  • Funerals : A Consumer Guide 
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Some cultures perceive death as a celebration of the life a person once lived, not a somber occasion. Rather than getting decked out in black and donning dark sunglasses, some cultures play more upbeat music and engage in dancing. They embrace the light, leaving the darkness behind.

Ghana’s Ga people believe that life transcends death and that the deceased will continue working in their professions in the afterlife. When someone passes, the family hires a carpenter or craftsman to create a figurative or “fantasy” coffin in the shape of an object that represents that person’s job or something they were passionate about. Some of these coffins resemble cars, animals, or objects such as an airplane, pair of shoes, and more. 

The jazz funeral or “funeral with music” is popular in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is known as the city of parades. The longstanding tradition fuses African and European influences, and results in a funeral procession in which solemn music is played until the deceased is laid to rest. Soon after, the marching band moves into a more festive style of music and the procession morphs into a celebratory parade. Cathartic dancing follows. 

More people in the USA, UK, China, and other countries worldwide are opting for burials at sea. Underwater urns or “memorial reefs” on the ocean bottom are also gaining popularity. Affordable, sustainable, and environmentally conscious, these reefs provide a habitat for sea life.

Each culture has its own funerary traditions and within each culture, people have different preferences. In The Burial of the Dead: A Pastor’s Complete Hand-book for Funeral Services and for the Consolation and Comfort of the Afflicted, George Duffield writes, “The mode of attending funerals is different in different places. But the services embrace always an address and a prayer” (p. 97).
In Pulpit and Grave: A Volume of Funeral Sermons and Addresses from Leading Pulpits of America, England, Germany, and France, author Edward Jewitt Wheeler includes “Curious Facts Concerning Funeral Rites.” He writes, 

The rudest (meaning the most rudimentary or basic) method of burial was to lay the corpse on the ground and pile stones around it.

The Greenlanders bury with a child a dog, to guide it in the other world, saying, “A dog can find his way anywhere.”

The music continuously kept up at the Irish wakes used to be for the purpose of warding off evil spirits.

The Mexicans gave slips of paper to the dead, as passports to take them safely by cliffs, serpents, and crocodiles. (p. 349)

In a Lingayat funeral, the corpse is carried counterclockwise once around the grave, and then the cot is put down at the north side, in a north-south alignment. There, all the jewelry and ornaments are taken off the corpse and given to a responsible man of the bereaved family, an act that is witnessed by some leading villager, such as the headman. An exception is that a dead female must wear a silver finger ring or at least must have one thrown into the grave. (p. 49)

By Regina Molaro

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