In Singapore, we are quite familiar with the funerary traditions and customs of the different races. But what do we know of death rituals from other civilisations?
My short stint at a local funeral home had gotten me fascinated with death and the macabre… and no, I don’t need professional help.
Tibetan “Sky Burials”
The stony Tibetan soil makes burial near impossible so the Tibetan Buddhist ritualistically leave the body out to be consumed by carrion birds like vultures.
You might baulk at such “unglamorous” burial practice but Buddhism believes the body is just an empty vessel and don’t require commemoration.
Practised only by the Japanese Sokushinbutsu Buddhist monks, who begin with a 1000-day diet of a nut and seed diet to rid all body fat, followed by another 1000-day diet of bark and poisonous tea that causes severe dehydration.
Finally, the monk enters a sealed stone tomb with an air tube and small bell. The bell is rung daily and when it stopped, the tomb is sealed for another 1,000 days before the mummified priest is removed and displayed in the monastery.
What?! In Taiwan, showgirls strip for the dead to appease the departed spirit.
This is hailed as a perfect way of sending off a loved one with a smile and attracting huge crowds to bolster the reputation of the dead, though the practice was criticised as scandalous and causes incessant and unwanted media attention.
Tana Toraja in Eastern Indonesia
Tana Toraja involves a whole village and can last for days to weeks. The ceremony is extravagant with music, dancing, and a huge feast for guests.
As a sacrificed water buffalo takes the deceased to the afterlife, the body is considered as “asleep” and is placed in special rooms and symbolically fed , cared for, conversed with, and included in daily activities as though still alive.
Actual burial occurs when the family places the body into a coffin which is then placed in a grave, cave, or hung on a cliff.
Santhara is voluntary death by fasting, which is practised by the Jains in India who believes in non-violence towards all creatures.
Santhara begins when the person decides his/her life has fulfilled its purpose and is ready for spiritual purification.
Tower of Silence
India’s Zoroastrians would leave their dead at the Tower of Silence for vultures to consume as they believe cremation or burial will defile elements like fire and earth.
According to their scriptures and tradition, a corpse becomes a host of defilement and corruption.
South Korea’s Death Beads
A South Korean law passed in 2000 requires the buried to be removed after 60 years due to dwindling graveyard space.
As cremation become popular, some companies compress the ashes into gem-like beads in turquoise, pink, or black “death beads”, which are displayed at home.
Eating the Dead
The Wari tribes of the Amazon eat their dead to convert humans to spirits and to fight the grief of loss and mourning.
Practising the custom is a form of respect for the dead and a way to gain good qualities of the dead or absorption of the deceased soul.
Why have your ashes sealed in a niche or scattered into the sea when you can simply have your ashes made into a diamond by LifeGem, an American company that specialises in transforming ashes into diamonds?
With this, you can have your loved one immortalised as a diamond on your finger.
Didn’t a jewellery ad once said that diamonds are timeless?
Ritual Finger Amputation
The Dani women and children of West Papua New Guinea would tie off and amputate their fingers whenever the eldest male of their house dies.
This practice symbolises the pain of losing a loved one and to please and chase away spirits. This ritual is now banned.
When my time comes, I want my female relatives to shave their eyebrows and cry into tear bottles, while my mummified body is placed into a decorated sarcophagus à la Ancient Egyptian!