Beyond The Casket: 15 Weird Funeral Practices

If there’s something we know for sure is that we all die. At least for now. Who knows what technology might offer in the years to come. Until then, we have funeral practices in place that allow for a proper send off for our loved ones. But there’s more to this world than the classic funeral practices we resort to. The following weird funeral practices are just a hint of the many ways people around the world celebrate the life of those who pass away.

1. Endocannibalism in Fore Tribe, Papua New Guinea

weird funeral practices: endocannibalism

Just to give you a heads up about what endocannibalism is all about: “a practice of cannibalism in one’s own locality or community”. The Fore people have a “unique” funeral ritual where they consume the bodies of their deceased loved ones. The belief is that by ingesting the remains, the spirits of the departed are absorbed into the living, eating them out of love.

2. The Towers of Silence in India

men carrying something
What was first a popular burying tradition is now being used quite rarely, the Parsi of western India seem to be the only ones to still engage in this. Instead of burying or cremating the deceased, they place bodies on raised structures called “Towers of Silence” where vultures and the elements naturally dispose of the remains.

3. Sky burials in Tibet

vultures


Instead of traditional burials or cremations, Tibetans practice “sky burials.” The body is dismembered and left on a mountaintop to allow vultures and other scavengers to consume it.

4. Digging out graves in Madagascar

Madagascar burial
The Merina people follow a custom known as “famadihana” or the “turning of the bones.” They exhume the remains of their ancestors, wrap them in new burial cloths, and dance with the deceased around their ancestral tomb. This allows for newer generations to create a connection with their ancestors.

5. Tomb-Sweeping Day celebrated by ethnic Chinese

Tomb-sweeping day in China
It is celebrated in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. They clean the tombs, plant flowers, and fly kites.

6. The hanging coffins of Sagada, Philippines

Sagada hanging coffins
In Sagada, people have an unusual burial tradition. Instead of being buried underground, coffins are placed on the side of cliffs or in caves. If the elders are too weak to carve their own coffins, their immediate family is delegated to do so. The reasoning behind keeping the coffins at such altitude was the belief that the higher they were, the higher the chances of their spirits getting in connection with their ancestors.

7. Self-mummification in Japan

mummified monk
In the Yamagata Prefecture, certain monks practiced self-mummification, sokushinbutsu. This meant following a strict diet, essentially starving themselves, along with consuming poisonous substances that practically embalmed the body. While officially completely banned, it seems it’s still practiced in remote locations.

8. Jazz Funerals in New Orleans, USA

New Orleans jazz funeral
Here funerals can be quite the spectacle. Jazz funerals combine mourning and celebration, with a procession that starts somber and ends in joyous music, dancing, and a lively “second line.” Just like Sidney Bechet, a New Orleans native jazz singer said “Music is as much a part of death as it is of life.”

9. Water Cremation in the United States

water cremation machine
Known as alkaline hydrolysis, water cremation is an eco-friendly alternative to the traditional cremation. The body is dissolved in a mixture of water and chemicals, leaving behind only the bones and a liquid called effluent.

10. Día de los Muertos in Mexico

dia de los muertos
Perhaps one of the most popular and vibrant celebrations of the dead, Día de los Muertos is a way to remember and honor the deceased with joy and love. Families create ofrendas (altars) adorned with marigolds, candles, sugar skulls, and the favorite food and drink of their departed loved ones.

11. Taiwanese funeral strippers

Taiwanese funeral
Yep, you read that right. In Taiwan there’s a unique and somewhat controversial practice that’s become a part of funeral traditions. Some families hire strippers to perform at the funerals of their loved ones. This is sure to draw quite the crowd, and since huge crowds are considered a sign of a successful funeral, why not? It’s definitely raised a few eyebrows but it seems to be the kind of tradition that is here to stay.

12. Irish wakes

Irish wake
In Ireland, funerals are often accompanied by a tradition known as an “Irish wake.” Instead of somber affairs, these gatherings are more like celebrations of the deceased’s life. It all starts with drawing the curtains as a sign of respect. Leaving the shoes near the bed so the deceased can use them in the afterlife. And this one is a real kicker: sleeping overnight in the same room as the deceased. Then friends and family come together, share stories, sing songs, and, of course, raise a glass or two in the honor of the dearly departed.

13. Varanasi cremation rituals

Varanasi funeral
Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in India, is known for its unique funeral customs. People come to Varanasi to die, believing it’s a way to break the cycle of reincarnation. The deceased are often cremated on the ghats (steps) of the Ganges River. It goes that far that some people spend their life savings on this.

14. Finger amputation in Papua, New Guinea

man holding hands
The Dani tribe of Papua, New Guinea have a distinct funeral ritual that’s both startling and meaningful. To express grief, female relatives of the deceased often amputate their own fingers, cutting off the tip. The severed part is either burned until it turns to ashes or kept as a memento.

15. Death beads in South Korea

beads
This is a modern and artistic approach to remembering the deceased. There seems to be an abundance of companies that offer this service, the ashes to beads transformation. This is a more personal touch as opposed to simply having the ashes in an urn on the mantel.

Recommended reading next: 23 Celebrity Deaths That Will Make You Say ‘What The…?’

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