December 19, 2022

How Do Different Cultures Honor Their Dead?

Death may be a universal experience, but every culture has a different way of celebrating it. Thanks to mainstream media, most of us are familiar with the Western traditions of wearing black, saying prayers, and laying down flowers. It is important to learn about how other cultures honor their dead. 

If you’re curious, here are five unique funerary customs from different parts of the world. While some of these practices may seem odd, it’s surprising how similar values bring us together at the end of life. 


Sky Burials in Tibet

Tibetans honor their dead through sky burials. Whenever a community member dies, a burial master will cut the body into smaller pieces and take it to a high-altitude area. The body will be left outside for vultures to eat. Tibetans believe that when birds devour the deceased, they’re taking them up to heaven, where they can wait until their reincarnation. 

Sky burials have a practical purpose too. Most of the time, the ground is frozen and impossible to dig up, making sky burials the less physically taxing alternative. 


Famadihana in Madagascar

Famadihana, or “turning of the bones,” is a funerary custom from Madagascar. Every five to seven years, the Malagasy people will open ancestral tombs, exhume the bodies of the deceased, spray them with perfume or wine, and wrap them in fresh cloth. A live band will play inside the crypts as family members dance, tell stories, and celebrate. 

The Malagasy people see this practice as an opportunity to remember the deceased and ask for their blessings. In addition, they believe that it speeds up the decomposition process and helps spirits transition faster into the afterlife.


Aboriginal Mortuary Rites in Australia

Instead of mourning in sadness, the Aboriginal communities in Australia honor the dead through elaborate mortuary rites. First, they will hold a smoking ceremony in the deceased’s living area to help drive their spirit to its next life. Next, they will paint themselves ochre, put up a flag to mark the death, partake in a feast, and celebrate with dancing and singing. 

It’s also part of their custom to avoid mentioning the deceased person’s name or depicting them in art or pictures. They believe that doing so might disturb their transition to the afterlife. 


Living With the Dead in Indonesia

For the Torajans in Indonesia, the death of a loved one isn’t the end of their time together. They dress their deceased relatives, place them in houses called “tongkonan,” and bring them meals. They believe that by caring for their loved one’s bodies, they continue to nurture their relationship with them. 

To Torajans, a person only passes away when the family finally decides to hold a funeral ceremony. And sometimes, it can take years before that happens. Funerals are considered the most important social event in the Torajan calendar. 


Parading the Dead in India

In Varanasi, it’s tradition to parade the dead around the city as a way to honor them. They also dress the deceased in colors that represent their virtues in life. Yellow, for example, stands for knowledge, while red signifies purity. 

The most important part of their funerary customs is sprinkling the dead with holy water from the Ganges River to wash away their sins. Lastly, they cremate the bodies along the banks of the river to end the cycle of reincarnation and help souls reach salvation. 


Call Wyuka Today!

Funerary customs may vary between cultures and religions, but many of these practices have the same goal of bringing honor to the dead and helping them move on to the afterlife. For more information, contact Wyuka Cemetery at (402)-474-3600.


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