For something that is as sure as birth, death is still not looked upon as a friend, and neither are the dead. And you’ll agree when you read about the morbid death customs from around the world.The very people who were loved, adored, or even worshipped while they were alive are treated pretty differently when they die, especially in many parts of the modern and the ancient world. Religions and beliefs may wax eloquent about the soul and its recycling or its ascension to heaven, but losing someone you loved to the Grim Reaper is always a bitter pill to swallow, even if you are sure to be united with them once the Reaper comes to get you.
That said, some of these rituals will make your stomach turn and make you thankful that you didn’t die in those times or were part of these cultures. These are the tribes that treat their dead either with callousness, simply because a body devoid of the soul is dirty, or with fear, as they believe death may turn them against the living! So the death and mourning rituals seen around the world are often a tad strange and terribly morbid. And we’re not overstating the morbidity at all. Imagine feasting on a corpse of a friend or relative, or anointing yourself with the decomposing body fluids. Or how about simply throwing the corpse to the scavengers and the elements, or forcing a wife to burn alive in the same pyre as her dead husband is being cremated in… Stomach turning yet? Well, wait until you get through the entire list of the most morbid death customs around the world…
15. Lost Someone? Turn Them Into Colorful Burial Beads
So, South Korea is not just different from North Korea, but a tad different from the rest of the world. Instead of burying or even burning their dead, they prefer to “bead” their loved ones. In case you are scratching your head, wondering how the human body can be turned into beads that fit into a jar, it’s all really simple. South Korea long since ran out of burial spaces, so now the dead are cremated, and then their ashes are chemically turned into colorful beads that are then jarred, labeled, and proudly displayed on the mantle in your home. The remains are compressed and turned into colorful burial beads, then displayed proudly on mantles at home! Turning your loved one into beads is no cheap affair, costing around $1000 for each dearly departed, but then why not have an Auntie encased in pink beads, or your granddad encased in blue? It’s a fairly practical solution, and South Koreans swear that these beads exude holiness and warmth.
14. The Feast At The Funeral? Nah, Let’s Just Eat The Dearly Departed!
So what do the Amazonian Ya̧nomamö tribe, the Wari of Brazil, and the Melanesians of Papua New Guinea have in common? That when they die, the rest of their clans make a meal out of the corpses to banish any future ghostly hauntings! Sounds gross? It’s called endocannibalism! The Wari consume roasted pieces of their dearly departed’s corpse in a solemn, mortuary-like setting. Refusing to eat is seen as an insult to the clan as well as to the dead. So do not partake at your risk. It may sound like a terribly morbid death custom, but for the Wari’s, it is how they pay respect to the dead. The Ya̧nomamö, on the other hand, do not feast on the flesh, but cremate the body and eat the ashes and the bones left– a morbid death custom, but that’s how they mourn the dead. Even the Aghori, holy men of India, consume the flesh of the dead in pursuit of spirituality.
13. In Ghana, Be Buried In What Ever Suits Your Fancy!
After such morbid death customs, it’s good to have a happier take on death, like they do in Ghana. When people in Ghana are preparing for their eventual burial, they can choose their coffins to look like anything they want: expensive shoes, maybe a Mercedes, or hey, even a nubile young woman. If you are going to meet your maker, you might as well choose the fanciest coffin to travel in! The coffin makers of Ghana are a class apart when it comes to creativity. They can help you get buried in just about any object of whatever shape or size. They are dubbed fantasy coffins. You can order one in your lifetime to make sure you get buried in your favorite thing in the whole world. It could be according to your profession (a cow for a dairy farmer, a fish for a fisherman, or even a bottle of Merlot for the winemaker), or it could be according to your hobby (a photography enthusiast could choose a camera coffin or a race car aficionado could be buried in a Ferrari). If you can think it, the Ghanaian coffin makers can make it!
12. The Tower Of Silence? Or The Tower Of Carrion Birds
Let’s get back to the morbid death customs again. The Zoroastrians don’t do much to their dead except respectfully leave them as carrion for birds, like vultures and crows, to feast on, after the body is “washed” in bull urine and visited by a holy dog called Sagdid. According to the Zoroastrian religion, fire is their highest God, so cremating a body in the flames is a mortal sin. Burial, according to their beliefs, contaminates the earth, so their way to consign a body to their heaven is by letting it decompose by the elements and get eaten by the vultures, and only then is the soul cleansed and released. Once a person has died, the body is considered unclean, so it is handled only by the priests and washed by bull urine, visited twice by a holy dog, wrapped in white muslin and then taken to a special building called the dhakma, or the Tower of Silence. Here the body lays until it decomposes and is picked clean by the vultures.
11. If The Husband Died, So Did The Wife In The Same Funeral Pyre
Whatever the British did or didn’t do whilst they ruled India, they did work in tandem with many reformists to abolish a horrible and sexist ritual that was followed in rural India called Sati. If a man died, his wife had to immolate herself in her husband’s funeral pyre, whether she wanted to or not. If the woman decided not to die along with her deceased husband, then she was considered to be in disgrace, for she was with fallen morals. While some of the women chose to sit on the funeral pure with their deceased husband’s head in their laps to burn alive, others used different ways to end their lives, thereby completing their vow as a wife to their husbands (to protect him whilst he was alive and to die with him to join him in afterlife). Sati is now completely banned and eradicated from India and Nepal, and is severely punishable by law. Countries like Greece, Russia and even Tonga and Fiji Island had similar customs, and they are also now banned.
10. The Hanging Coffins Of The Bo: Very Mysterious Indeed
Not much is known about the mysterious Bo people that flourished in Hemp Pond Valley in Southwest China’s Gongxian County before the Ming Dynasty came and obliterated them. What they have left behind are 160 coffins suspended from a cliff face, and no explanation as to why their dead were so painstakingly interred amidst many brightly painted murals. Hanging Coffins were not just restricted to the Bo; other instances of such precariously placed coffins can be found in the Philippines, in Sagada, in Indonesia, and other parts of China as well. It is thought that these coffins, carved from a single piece of wood, were placed this way to make sure that the body could not be mauled by beasts and the soul made its way straight to heaven. It’s not as disturbing as the other morbid death customs in the world, but it must have taken painstaking work from the burial party!
9. Buddhists Make It Easier For The Scavengers & Chop Up The “Empty Vessels”
Much like the Zoroastrians, the Buddhists also have a more literal and visceral take on the “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” thing. For Buddhists, a dead body is an empty vessel and they have no commemorative use for it, so they chop up the corpse and let the vultures feed on it on hilltops, in a ritual called sky burial. Practiced in Tibet, parts of China, Myanmar, and India, it upholds the Buddhist belief that the body, once the soul is departed, is an empty vessel and should be generously distributed to those who can consume it. Thinking practically and putting this morbid death custom aside, the cold climate of these places does not allow for cremation, due to a lack of timber for burial and due to the ground having permafrost. As gruesome as it may sound, the body is chopped up to allow for the faster consummation by the vultures, and then the leftover bones are ground up and fed to the crows and eagles. So the body goes to sustain many other beings– the perfect example of how Buddhism is a generous religion.
8. The Viking Funeral Was No Kinder To Women
Vikings apparently loved to have s*x with women, but held the men in much higher regard. This is apparent from Viking funerals in which an important warrior or chieftain died, and one of his female slaves had to choose to join him in the afterlife. She would be imprisoned in a room and given plenty to drink, after which she had to have s*x with all the men in that tribe. Finally, she was taken into a room, gang-r*ped by six men, choked by a rope, and stabbed by the eldest woman in the village. If the r*pe, the rope, or the stabbing didn’t kill her, she was put to sail on a small boat with her master’s dead body, which was then set afire from the shore. Now wasn’t a Viking slave’s life just great? The Viking funeral sure is a far cry from the almost poetic visuals we see in movies. The reality makes for a far grimmer and more morbid death custom than many.
7. Rotted Yet? Let’s Just Dig Up The Bones & Dance With Them!
The Malagasy people of Madagascar follow a rather stinky ritual in which they dig up the buried bones of the dead. This is done to hasten decomposition, which is essential to a happy afterlife in their belief system. But they don’t just dig up the bones; they also rewrap them in fresh cloth and dance with them to live music. This ritual is called Famadihana. Originated in the seventeenth century, the church calls the Famadihana more of a cultural ritual than a religious one, but ask the Malagasy and they say that it’s a chance for the whole family to come together and celebrate the dead and the departed. The Malagasy believe that the spirits of the dead finally join the land of the ancestors only after the body has completely decomposed, so Famadihana is a way to hurry up the decomposition with rituals, with the added benefit of bringing the whole family together.
6. Rethink Totem Poles: They Weren’t Just For Show
The Haida people of North America had a special ritual for death too. If you were just some nobody in the tribe, your body would be thrown in a mass pit for animals to scavenge. But if you were a chief or shaman, then you were a big deal, even in death. Your body would first be crushed to a pulp with clubs and then put into a wooden box the size of a suitcase. This box would then be placed in a mortuary totem pole in front of the deceased person’s house to drive evil spirits away. The smell was enough to drive even the worst of ghosts away! Totem poles are monumental, pillar-like structures with carvings of symbols or figures, made from large trees like cedars. As beautiful and exotic as they look, you now know that they held a gruesome secret. Not all totem poles are or were mortuary poles; most of them were memorial or welcome poles. The mortuary poles were always the tallest around (50-70 feet in height) so as to keep the smell away.
5. The Australian Aborigines Were No Less Creative With The Dead
If you were an Australian aborigine, then your tribe would have done rather unspeakable things with your corpse. Namely, you would first be stripped and placed atop a platform. Your body would be covered with leaves and branches and left to the elements to rot. If your body leaked fluids, they would be scooped up and massaged onto the bodies of the young men of the tribe so that they could imbibe your good qualities. And then your bones would be recovered and painted ochre red. They could be worn by the tribe members or left in a cave or a log. The bones were worn by the relatives of the deceased for almost a year before being discarded in a cave, or in a hollowed out tree log. This morbid death custom was done to make sure that you realized you were dead and didn’t try and get pally with the living!
4. The Dead Are Always Welcomed In The Hearth
The various tribes of Philippines have various death rituals, and some are exotic while others are rather morbid death customs. The Apayao people of Philippines do not believe in burying their dead too far from the home or hearth, so they are buried right under the kitchen after being rolled up in mats and placed in coffins along with a jar of water, a spear, and a shield. Another tribe called the Benguet blindfold their dead and then seat them on a chair placed next to a house’s main entrance, with a cigarette between the corpse’s lips, and the arms and legs tied together in the sitting position! Still, other tribes bury their dead in a hollowed out tree log that a person chooses while he or she is still alive. Another tribe called the Ilongot bury their dead in a sitting position, and if the corpse was that of a woman, then the hands were tied to the feet to prevent her ghost from roaming! Apparently, ghosts are only female!
3. Who Says The Dead Don’t Deserve Some Dancing?
You cannot take the jazz out of New Orleans, but you cannot take a person from New Orleans away from jazz either, even in death! Traditional New Orleans jazz funerals fuse West African, French, and African American traditions into a parade of a ceremony in which mourners lead the dead body into the crematorium whilst playing jazz with a full brass band. The march includes family and friends. The music starts out sounding sorrowful and solemn while the procession moves towards the cemetery. Once the body is buried and the rites have been performed, the procession says its final goodbye after which the music turns more celebratory. It begins with an upbeat hymn and then moves onto popular tunes and it is now that the procession can be joined by the onlookers into some cathartic dancing to celebrate the life of the deceased. Onlookers can also follow the band just to enjoy the music, but are required to twirl a parasol, a scarf, or a handkerchief in the air.
2. Mass Funerals In Bali To Release Trapped Souls
The Hindu Balinese much like the Indian Hindus also cremate their dead and believe that this ritualistic burning releases the trapped soul in a corpse which can then be reborn with a new body. Unlike Hindu rites where bodies are burnt in a pyre usually within 24 hours of someone’s passing, Balinese cremations are expensive and time-consuming affairs. Usually, bodies are buried in a holy place until the family can pool funds for the cremation, and sometimes mass cremations take place on auspicious dates. Typically, the body is dressed in Balinese finery and then placed in wooden coffins to be carried to the cremation grounds. Here the body is placed inside a wooden bull called a lembu or temple-like structure called a wadah. Hymns are sung and prayers are chanted and the body is finally set alight. After 12 days, the ashes are collected by the family in a coconut shell and immersed in a river.
1. When Loss Is Not Enough, Pain Has To Be Part Of Mourning
When someone in the Dani people of West Papua, New Guinea died, crying bitter tears was not enough. The women and children had to bleed to show their grief by cutting off a finger or two. Why? Incomprehensible as it may seem to the modern world, the practice was done to gratify the spirits and drive them away to the netherworld. The Dani also believed that true mourning lay in physical pain, so the more upset you were, the more fingers you had to snip off. For some reason, this morbid death ritual of finger amputation known as ikipalin became the brunt of the womenfolk of the Dani to bear. So all the women who were close to the deceased (grannies, mother, aunts, wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, and sisters) had to cut off a part of their fingers in mourning. The family would then cauterize the wounds. And in case you were too young to cut your finger off, your mother would help by biting off the tip of your finger. Thankfully, the practice is banned. That said, the effects are still visible.
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