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Unit 1 – The cultural diversity of funerals around the globe

While in Western society, funerals follow a very similar set of core patterns and traditions,

in other cultures they are dramatically different to those we are familiar with in the UK:

  • In Tana Toraja in eastern Indonesia, funerals are raucous affairs involving the whole village. They can last anywhere from days to weeks. Families save up for long periods of time to raise the resources for a lavish funeral, where sacrificial water buffalo will carry the deceased’s soul to the afterlife.
  • The Benguet of north western Philippines blindfold their dead and place them next to the main entrance of the house – and their Tinguian neighbours dress bodies in their best clothes, sit them on a chair and place a lit cigarette in their lips. The Caviteño tribes, who live near Manila, bury their dead in a hollowed-out tree trunk. When someone becomes ill, they select the tree where they will eventually be entombed. Meanwhile, the Apayo, who live in the north of the Phillipines, bury their dead under the kitchen.
  • Many Vajrayana Buddhists in Mongolia and Tibet believe in the transmigration of spirits after death — that the soul moves on, while the body becomes an empty vessel. To return it to the earth, the body is chopped into pieces and placed on a mountaintop, which exposes it to the elements — including vultures.
  • The Malagasy people of Madagascar have a famous ritual called “famadihana,” or “the turning of the bones.” Once every five or seven years, a family has a celebration at its ancestral crypt where the bodies, wrapped in cloth, are exhumed and sprayed with wine or perfume. As a band plays at the lively event, family members dance with the bodies.
  • When a loved one dies in Aboriginal society in Australia’s Northern Territory, elaborate rituals begin. First, a smoking ceremony is held in the loved one’s living area to drive away their spirit. Next a feast is held, with mourners painted ochre as they partake in food and dance. The body is traditionally placed atop a platform and covered in leaves as it is left to decompose.
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