February 28, 2023


By Nate Hamon

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The more we look around us and the further we travel to get away from our limited understanding of the world, the wackier and more eccentric the world seems to be. But our thoughts as to what makes something bizarre is usually based on comparison with what we are used to. What we find normal others may find strange and what we initially find strange we can soon find normal.

And that’s how it can be with funeral traditions. If there is one thing that none of us will escape, whether we are living in Queensland or Timbuktu, is death. While we might find comfort in a simple ceremony, often led by a religious cleric or a funeral celebrant, there are many cultures around the planet that do things a little differently than we might be used to here in Australia.

Be aware, reading about some of these traditions are not for the faint of heart.

Filipino Hanging Coffins

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In parts of the Philippines, particularly among the Igorot people of the Cordillera region, it is traditional to hang coffins in caves or from cliff faces. While not practised widely anymore the idea is that by lifting the deceased off the ground they are being placed closer to heaven and away from the living. This isn’t a tradition confined to the Philippines, and can be found throughout other parts of Asia as well.

Tibetan Sky Burials

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Tibet is a mountainous region of the world. It is also a very spiritual place. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is believed that the body is merely a vessel for the soul. It is believed that when the physical body dies, the soul is reincarnated. To give the body back to the earth and feed it back into the ecosystem, the deceased are often taken to the top of a mountain and left for the vultures to consume. A number of other cultures in the region, including the Mongolians, also perform similar funerary rituals.

Japanese Self-Mummification

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You read that right; self-mummification! This is a practice called sokushinbutsu. Buddhist monks attempt to “mummify” themselves while they are still living! To do this they follow a strict diet of tree bark and roots and commit to an exercise regime. When they are ready they drink a poisonous tea. The idea is to achieve a state of enlightenment.

Ghana Coffin Dancing 

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If you’ve seen the Marvel film “Wakanda Forever ” you may have noticed that after somber grieving over Black Panther/King T’Challa’s death the streets line with the people of Wakanda and the king’s coffin is carried down the road on the pallbearers shoulders to upbeat singing and dancing. This was based on a real type of funeral celebration such as what is done in Ghana. It’s something that you also may have seen on social media as videos of these funerals go viral.

Fantasy Coffins in Ghana

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Again in Ghana, many people will have their coffins designed to represent their work and life. This has seen others around the world replicating the idea thanks to online virility.

These personalised coffins are creative, fun and a great way to artistically celebrate a person’s life. You’ll find everything from a giant shoe, to a Coke bottle, to a large prawn. Check out some of the most interesting coffins in this Buzzfeed article here – The Ga People of Ghana Are Buried In These Colorful Coffins (

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Yes! This is a funeral coffin for somebody who obviously loved Twix chocolate bars!

New Orleans Jazz Funerals

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A relatively more recent tradition and one that pays homage not only to the person but the home of jazz, can be found in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. West African, French, and African-American funerals are often celebrated with a jazz procession. A brass band leads the procession while playing mournful music as family and friends follow the casket. After the body is buried, the band changes it up and the mourners dance to celebrate the life of their dearly departed.

 Madagascar and the Tradition of Famadihana

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In Madagascar, there is a tradition that occurs 5-7 years after burial called Famadihana. This is a funerary tradition that involves exhuming and wrapping the deceased in fresh cloth, and then parading the body through the streets. This is not a dour, macabre affair but rather one that is accompanied by music, dancing and food. It is believed that the dead still have influence on their living relatives and can bring them good fortune.

Amazonian Eating of the Dead

Within the Amazon you can find the Yanomami tribe. After a member of the tribe passes away, they are cremated and then the ashes are consumed by family members and the tribe. This may sound gruesome but the soup that is created and shared with the mourners is seen as a local delicacy. It brings with it deep spiritual connotations.

The tribe believes that it is only after consumption that the dead can rest easily and for the mourners, it is seen as a way to honour their dead.

As fascinatingly odd as these customs may seem to us, to those who practise the rituals everything is done as a way to show love for those who have left them.

This article was brought to you by Rose Training Australia.

In our Western society a funeral can be as simple as a celebrant-led ceremony where poetry, stories and songs are heard, or as elaborate and colourful as anything else that you might imagine. While funerals are centred around the deceased, it’s also a time for the living to meet, talk and share good company. If you’ve ever considered that you yourself would be great at officiating funerals (or any other of life’s celebrations such as marriages, graduations, renewals etc.) why not speak to one of our staff today to discover whether celebrancy is the right role for you?

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