Thursday, July 8, 2010

Strange funeral customs


            Dying is a fact of life, as is the disposal of a body after the fact. You know all about burial and cremation, but here are the other ways people, past and present, have dealt with the departed.

Hanging the Dead
In southern China, the ancient Bo people hung the coffins of their dead on the sides of cliffs, where they can still be seen today. Similar customs have been practiced in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Endo cannibalism
Cultures from around the world have practiced endo-cannibalism, or eating of the dead. The Aghori of India retrieve decaying, incompletely cremated bodies from the Ganges and eat them. Several cultures—the Yanomamo of the Amazon, the Amahuaca of Peru, and some African tribes—grind up the bones of their dead, and cook the bonemeal into foods which are then consumed by members of the tribe.



Air Sacrifice – Mongolia
Mongolians believe in the return of the soul. When time comes to remove the body, it must be passed through a window or a hole cut in the wall to prevent evil from slipping in while the door is open.The body is taken away from the village and laid on the open ground. A stone outline is placed around it, and then the village dogs that have been penned up and not fed for days are released to consume the remains. What is left goes to the local predators. The stone outline remains as a reminder of the person.If any step of the ceremony is left out, no matter how trivial, bad karma is believed to ensue.
 
Pit Burial – Pacific Northwest Haida
Before white contact, the indigenous people of the American northwest coast, particularly the Haida, simply cast their dead into a large open pit behind the village. Their flesh was left to the animals. But if one was a chief, shaman, or warrior, things were quite different.The body was crushed with clubs until it fit into a small wooden box about the size of a piece of modern luggage. It was then fitted atop a totem pole in front of the longhouse of the man’s tribe where the various icons of the totem acted as guardians for the spirits’ journey to the next world.
 
Towers of Silence (INDIA)
Zoroastrians believe the body is impure and shouldn't pollute the earth after death through burial or cremation. Instead, the deceased are brought to a ceremonial "tower of silence", usually located on an elevated mountain plateau, and left exposed to the animals and elements. When the bones have been dried and bleached by the sun, they are gathered and dissolved in lime.

Tree Burials
Indigenous tribes in many parts of the world discovered that the best way of disposing the dead was to put them up high, rather than down below. Groups in Australia, British Columbia, the American southwest and Siberia were known to practice tree burial, which involved wrapping the body in a shroud or cloth and placing it in a crook to decompose.
 
Viking Ship Burials– Scandinavia
Middle Age Vikings lived and literally died by the sea. After death, wealthier Vikings were placed in ships filled with food, jewels, weapons, food and even sometimes servants or animals for their comfort in the afterlife. The boats were interred in the ground, set alight or sent out to sea. Â Men took their weapons to the next world, while women were laid to rest wearing their finest jewelry and accessories.If the deceased was a nobleman or great warrior, his woman was passed from man to man in his tribe, who all made love to her (some would say raped) before strangling her, and placing her next to the body of her man.

Tibetan Sky Burial
Instead of trying to bury bodies in the hard, rocky ground, some Tibetans send their loved ones to the top of a mountain and leave them to be eaten by the vultures. The disassembled corpses are even mixed with flour and milk for a tastier treat, to make sure every bit leaves the Earth for good.

Fire Burial – Bali
On the mostly Hindu Isle of Bali, fire is the vehicle to the next life. The body is bathed and laid out on a table where food offerings are laid beside it for the journey. Lanterns line the path to the persons hut to let people know he or she has passed, and act as a reminder of their life so they are not forgotten. It is then interred in a mass grave with others from the same village who have passed on until it is deemed there are a sufficient number of bodies to hold a cremation. The bodies are unearthed, cleaned, and stacked on an elaborate float, gloriously decorated by the entire village and adorned with flowers. The float is paraded through the village to the central square where it is consumed by flames, and marks the beginning of a massive feast to honor and remember the dead.
 
Predator Burial – Maasai Tribe
Throughout the Maasai of East African nomads actual burial is reserved for chiefs as a sign of respect, while the common people are simply left outdoors for predators to dispose of, since Maasai believe dead bodies are harmful to the earth. To them when you are dead, you are simply gone. There is no after life.

Skull Burial – Kiribati
On the tiny island of Kiribati the deceased is laid out in their house for no less than three days and as long as twelve, depending on their status in the community. Several months after internment the body is exhumed and the skull removed, oiled, polished, and offered tobacco and food. After the remainder of the body is re-interred, traditional islanders keep the skull on a shelf in their home and believe the native god Nakaa welcomes the dead person’s spirit in the northern end of the islands.
 
Cave Burial – Hawaii
In the Hawaiian Islands, a traditional burial takes place in a cave where the body is bent into a fetal position with hands and feet tied to keep it that way, then covered with a tapa cloth made from the bark of a mulberry bush.Sometimes the internal organs are removed and the cavity filled with salt to preserve it. The bones are considered sacred and believed to have diving power. Many caves in Hawaii still contain these skeletons, particularly along the coast of Maui.

Sati dah
In Hindu India, a widow was considered vulgar and useless without her husband, therefore she was expected to lie by his side and be cremated alive. This ritual, Sati, was believed to purify the widow and give her free passage to Heaven. Although Sati was abolished in 1829 there have been numerous cases since. Even as recent as 1981 an eighteen year old widow was a victim of the custom. Whether it was voluntary or she was forced to do it is still unknown.

Smoke body
In Africa, many native people smoke their corpses to preserve them. In the Congo, tribes build fires above the graves of the dead and keep the fires burning for a month. After that period, the bodies are unearthed, smoked, and wound in great swaths of cloth. The smoked corpse is placed upright in the hut where the person died and remains there for years.
 
Neanderthal Cave Burials
Before they began interring their dead in the ground proper around 100,000 years ago, Neanderthals routinely left the deceased deep inside the caves of Europe and the Middle East. To Neanderthals, the dark, mysterious recesses of a cave may have seemed like a good place to transfer over to the otherworld, some archaeologists have argued.
 
Mummification
The mummies of ancient Egypt are probably the world's most famous dead bodies. Reserved for members of the upper classes, mummification involved the removal of all organs including the brain, which was pulled through the nose by a hook. The body was then stuffed with dry materials like sawdust and wrapped in linens. The Egyptians believed that mummification preserved the soul for its journey into the afterlife.


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