Five Unique Burial & Funeral Practices From Around the World

Written By A.R. Arthur

A.R. Arthur (formerly A.R. Salandy) is a Black Mixed-race poet & writer who has spent most of his life in Kuwait jostling between the UK & America. He is the EIC of Fahmidan Journal/Publishing & Co, Reviews Editor at Full House Literary & Poetry Editor at Chestnut Review. Twitter/Instagram: @ararthurwriter

Everyone dies, but burials are not standardized and neither are the rituals surrounding them. While many fear death, some cultures not only venerate the dead, but actively engage with the dead as a means of connecting with the dearly departed but of course, never forgotten. Historically, burial techniques included; mummification in Ancient Egypt, sea burials in the Viking territories in Scandinavia, and even the embalming and display of corpses. Famous examples of the latter include Vladimir Lenin, several Catholic Popes and Mao Zedong.

Burials have always occupied a central space in human existence whether in relation to simple kinship, royalty, and religious beliefs. Therefore, is it any wonder that burial and funeral practices vary so much globally? From dancing with the deceased to burials in the sky, feast your eyes on five unique burial practices that will intrigue you from across the globe.

Famadihana – Madagascar

Famadihana is a funeral tradition of the Malagasy people of Madagascar. During this ceremony a process titled the “turning of the bones” ensues where the bodies of deceased relatives are removed from familial crypts and rewrapped in layers of fresh cloth while rewriting the relative’s name on the cloth to signify that they will always be remembered. After this process has been completed, families will dance while carrying the corpses overhead and around the crypt to live music before replacing them within the crypt. This practice is now generally viewed as cultural than religious by the Catholic and Protestant Christian majority of Madagascar.

Sky Burial – Tibet

Sky Burial is a burial practice that shares similarities with traditional Zoroastrian burial processes. This form of burial involves leaving a corpse on a mountaintop to decompose and be stripped bare of its flesh by scavengers such as vultures. Further, through the elemental decay from weather, the corpse is reduced to bones. This practice stems from the Vajrayana Buddhist belief that the body is merely a vessel for the soul and therefore, in death the corpse has no value but to return to the natural world both through consumption and a literal return to the Earth. This burial practice was also borne out of necessity due to the rocky mountainous nature of the area which rendered ground burial difficult.

Tower of Silence – Zoroastrianism (Iran)

Zoroastrianism is an arcane religion predating the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). A burial tradition that was once of great importance to Zoroastrians was centered on the belief that corpses were essentially toxic. This meant that they defiled anything they touched and as a result, raising corpses into the sky to be devoured by vultures was the only viable solution. This resulted in corpses being placed in a circular tower where their flesh was picked clean by vultures after the body had been washed in bulls urine and the clothes were removed by disposable tools. This method ensured that the living would not be tainted by the corpses decaying and being devoured in a tower out of sight.

Jazz Funerals – New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

This funeral practiced is the result of a fusion of cultural influences in Louisiana with French Creole, broadly African and Voodoo practices that have culminated into a burial where jazz plays throughout. In this practice, a procession of mourners will escort the corpse from a church or home to the cemetery. En route, live music is played, typically by a full band, where mournful songs are played. This then changes to more upbeat songs after the body has been surrendered to the grave. Usually, colorful outfits and sometimes fans and signs accompany mourners along their route.

Cambodian Funeral Rituals

In Cambodia, the immediate family of the deceased is responsible for the cleansing of the corpse. The corpse is then dressed in a coffin for three days, before being taken to the crematorium by the entire funeral procession. During this procession, mourners, usually consisting of family and Buddhist monks and elders, often shave their heads as symbol of their grief while wearing white. White is the traditional color of morning in Cambodia. Cambodian belief dictates that any alteration to the body or embalming is a desecration of the body. They deem these unnatural acts as a hindrance to the soul’s journey after dying and ultimately, rebirth. After cremation, the ashes of the deceased remain in a Buddhist temple so that resident monks may guide the souls into their new life.