Funeral customs from around the world
Some of the more unusual traditions
When we think of a traditional funeral, a few things come to mind. Cremation or burial? Popular music or religious hymns? But around the world, there are many different ways in which people choose to say goodbye to their loved ones – some more unusual than others.
From fantasy coffins in Ghana, to Jazz funerals in New Orleans, there are some fascinating funeral customs and traditions around the world.
South Korean burial beads
In South Korea, a new custom has arisen due to the rising cost and limited space for burial. Cremations account for 7 out of every 10 funerals in the country and the most popular option for the ashes are to turn them into smooth gem-like beads. These are then placed in the home in glass containers as a way to keep their loved ones nearby.
(photo by Ahn Young-joon)
New Orleans Jazz funerals
In New Orleans, US, a popular tradition is that of a jazz funeral. Typically this would begin with a slow funeral march to the church or funeral home with a jazz band playing hymns and sombre dirges, then after the service the march continues to the cemetery, where passers-by are welcome to join in the “second line”. Once the march has passed a respectable distance from the church, the style and tempo of the music changes to upbeat, jubilant songs meant to celebrate the joy of life.
(photo by Derek Bridges)
Ghanaian fantasy coffins
In Ghana, the celebration of personality rules the funeral traditions, as coffins are manufactured on a unique basis to reflect something important to the deceased. Coffins can be based on the deceased’s favourite object or represent their occupation, for example, a coffin in the shape of a shoe for a shoemaker. Based on the idea that death is the beginning of the afterlife, Ghanaian funerals are uplifting by nature and the rise of the “fantasy coffin” is a big part of giving the deceased a good send off.
(photo by Regula Tschumi - Race car coffin made by Daniel Mensah - 2006)
Tibetan Sky burials
A more unusual funeral custom is that of “Sky burial” which is practiced in the Chinese province of Tibet, a mainly Buddhist region. The body of the deceased is offered to the land, particularly vultures, so that the deceased can be taken to heaven to await re-incarnation. Buddhists believe that the body is an empty vessel, not to be preserved, and so it is offered as a sacrifice. Whilst this has symbolic meaning, it may have come about for more practical reasons. The ground in the region is much too hard to dig a grave, and natural resources needed for cremation are very scarce.
(photo by John Hill - Yerpa Valley sky burial site)
Whilst you’re not likely to see any of these customs in UK funerals, there are many ways to personalise your own funeral, or the funeral of a loved one. Almost every part of a funeral service can be tailored, including music, type of coffin, hearse, location etc. Read more here.