Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Death Rituals Across Cultures


Pygmies (African Congo)

The Pygmies appear to be sort of uncomfortable with death. When a person dies, they pull down his hut on top of him, and move their camp while relatives cry. Then the dead person is never mentioned again.

Chukchee (Nothern Siberia, Russia)
A three day silent watch was kept to insure the soul then departs. The dead were removed from their huts via special holes cut in the side and then immediately sewn to prevent the spirit from returning and bothering them. The bodies were burned or just taken to a seculded spot.

Maoris (New Zealand)
The Maoris have an elaborate ritual. When people are dying they are placed in huts which are later burned. The corpse is sat up and dressed in nice clothes to be viewed by the public, and the mourners wear wear wreathes of green leaves, cry out and cut themselves with knvies. They chant praises and then have a feast where they give the dead's relatives gifts. After a few years, the bones are cleaned, covered in red earth and put in a special cave.

Solomon Islands
In the Solomon Islands the dead were laid out on a reef for the sharks to eat. At a different point in their history, they stored skulls in fish-shaped containers.

Intuit (Alaska)
Some Inuits covered the corpse with a small igloo. Because of the cold body would remain forever, unless it was eaten by polar bears.

Estonians of eastern Europe who follow the old folkways like to throw banquets in their graveyards and eat with the departed. They put a few delicacies on each tombstone to share their food. On certain days when the dead return home for a visit, bathrooms are kept heated and food is laid out in festive array. In this way, bonds are preserved and strengthened between loved ones on both side of life's gate.

Tibetan views, in synch with other Bhuddist views in Asia, on death are most cogently expressed in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Essentially, they feel that death must be confronted to truly achieve spiritual progress. In fact, knowledge of the steps occurring at the time of death is acquired through study, in the hopes that the confrontation will be so directed toward virtuous thoughts to allow enlightment, the achievement of Bhudda status rather than continuing the cycle of rebirth. Meditation occurs on the topic of death, event. Relatives present at the time of death attempt not to distract from this confrontation, and a lama may be present to offer advice and read sacred texts, helping the living as well as the dying. Tibetans reportedly even hacked up their dead for bird food because they had no respect for the body.

Although practices have changed, they still involve celebrating nine night, which is a celebration to support the relatives of the dead and provide for the body's safe journey to the next part of life. It is held in a veranda or a bamboo and coconut tent next to a house. Fried fish and, cake and bread sits on a central table and is left until midnight, so that the spirit of the dead can drop by for a snack. The ceremony also involves dancing, extensive singing and 100-proof rum. It ends nine nights after the death, though additional singing must occur 40 nights later, when supposedly the soul has ceased roaming and will no longer pester the living. Journey cakes ("johnnycakes") are also laid with corpses, and often obedah or vodoo ceremonies will occur to help put souls to rest. Previously, sexual images often were present on tombstones, and burial occured near homes.

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