While almost all of us are familiar with the traditional “Christian” style burial – and it is certainly the most frequently shown on our movies and TV shows – the truth of the matter is that our way is not necessarily the standard in other parts of the globe. There are some amazing (and to us probably bizarre) and unusual types of death and funeral rituals from other cultures around the world.
Every people has its own specific rites and rituals, many of them dating back thousands and thousands of years. Some share similar elements with other funerary traditions , but most rituals are quite a bit different than the rest – and some of them have elements that will shock and surprise you.
Below we highlight some of the world’s most interesting, unique, and distinct funeral rituals!
Like most of the other African nations and African cultures, ancestors that have passed on are treated with a mixture of both fear and veneration – and funerals in South Africa are designed to show the utmost respect for those that have passed.
In South Africa, if someone dies inside of a home the windows of that property may be covered with ash, and all of the beds are to be removed from the dead person’s room so that mourners can enter the space. Some that are particularly traditional sacrifice a small animal in that space to appease the spirits that have gone before us, and most will wash the dirt and dust from their clothes and their bodies before they enter their own homes to avoid bringing in any bad luck.
Mongolia is probably most famous for their “sky burials”, essentially propping the body of a deceased loved one up on a high and unprotected place so that it can be exposed to the elements and consumed by wildlife. They share this ritual with those from Tibet, and it is a particularly Buddhist point of view that focuses on the needless nests of respecting a body after death as it is simply considered “luggage” in the perspective of Mongolians.
Other Mongolians do not share these similar Buddhist beliefs, but instead bury their dead in the ground in caskets that are covered in red and black paint. The grave is then surrounded with milk, rice, and clean sand to help expedite the spirits pathway to the afterlife.
Similar to those of the Mongolian culture, many Cambodians are Buddhists in their beliefs and are certain of the cycle of reincarnation. Traditional mourning and funeral rituals are not all that popular in Cambodia, as the Cambodian people (in general) believe that those that have passed are merely preparing themselves to be reborn and reincarnated all over again.
Some Cambodians will wear white to symbolize their mourning, where others may shave their heads to show respect and appreciation for those that have gone before us. Many Cambodian Buddhists believe that a Buddhist monk should be present at the moment of death, in an effort to help the new soul find its way while it prepares for its next incarnation.
At the end of the day, these rituals aren’t all that dissimilar from other rituals around the world when you get right down to the core of them. These death and funeral rituals, like all others, show a respect for those that have gone before us – if not a respect for the actual body itself, a respect for the soul and the memory of the person that has passed on.
Cultures all over the world throughout history have found interesting and creative ways to deal with the death, and it’s likely that there will be new traditions created in the future as well.