Recently, the story of Louis Charbonnet and the post funerals he’s helped facilitate through the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home in New Orleans has been sweeping the internet. In particular, Charbonnet garnered attention for the service of Miriam Burbank, whom he posed sitting at a table with a can of Busch beer in one hand and a menthol cigarette in the other.
Charbonnet’s story certainly turned heads, but the idea of posing the dead isn’t actually a new concept. The Tinguian people of the Philippines have been doing it for generations, as we’ll explore in the following nine fascinating burial customs from around the world.
Tinguian Funeral Poses
Upon death, members of the Tinguian group cloth the bodies of the deceased in their finest clothing, place them in chairs and set lit cigarettes in their lips. But the Tinguian aren’t the only Filipino group with interesting death traditions. Members of the Benguet group place blindfolds on their deceased and sit them next to the main entrances of their homes. The Apayo bury their dead under their kitchens, while the Caviteno bury their dead in the hollowed-out trunks of trees chosen by the deceased when they first became ill.
Ghana’s Fantasy Coffins
US funeral personalization has nothing on Ghana’s fantasy coffins! In this country, it’s popular to lay loved ones to rest in coffins that represent something about the deceased, including hobbies, occupations or other personal characteristics. Check out this Mercedes Benz coffin built for a successful businessman.
Bali’s Lavish Cremations
According to Balinese tradition, cremation releases a person’s soul so that it’s free to go on and inhabit a new body. As a result, Balinese cremations are celebratory affairs that may see several people cremated together — some of whom may have been buried temporarily and then exhumed until the event can take place. A black wood bull served as the sarcophagus at the July 2008 cremation of three members of Bali’s royal family and 68 commoners, and other smaller sarcophaguses have been used for many others.
South Korean Burial Beads
As a small country, South Korea is fast running out of burial space. In fact, a law passed in 2000 requires families who choose to bury their loved ones to remove the grave after 60 years, making cremation a more popular choice for families. But instead of storing their cremated remains in urns, South Korean families prefer to have their ashes pressed into “death beads,” which can be produced in turquoise, pink or black colors for about $900 and are then displayed around the house.
Tibetan Sky Burials
In the Buddhist tradition of doing no harm, “sky burials” involve cutting the deceased into pieces and placing them on hills for carrion birds to consume. Any bones that remain are ground up later on and given to crows, hawks and other animals. And while it might seem grotesque, the ritual is elegant in the way it disposes of remains while allowing the flesh of the deceased to nourish living beings.
Madagascar’s Turning of the Bones
If you think that one burial is stressful enough for the people involved, be glad you’re not a member of the Malagasy tribe of Madagascar! The group’s “turning of the bones” ritual (known as “famadihana”) involves digging up the bodies of the deceased every seven years or so and wrapping them in fresh cloth in order to hasten the decomposition process. But it’s not a morbid affair — famadihana is a time of celebration, song and dance that’s believed to help the ongoing process of transitioning the spirits of the deceased into the afterlife.
New Orleans Jazz Funerals
The Malagasy people aren’t the only ones who celebrate death with song. Traditional New Orleans jazz funerals fuse West African, French and African American traditions into traveling ceremonies in which mourners are lead to the ceremony by marching bands. While the events begin with sorrowful dirges, they shift to more upbeat tunes and cathartic dancing once the body has been buried. Onlookers are welcome to join in and follow the band to enjoy the music — a process known as “second lining.”
Zoroastrian Cleansing Rituals
Zoroastrians, as a rule, aren’t all that comfortable with dead bodies. Because the corpses of the deceased are seen as defiling everything they touch, Zoroastrian funerals begin by cleansing the body in unconsecrated bull’s urine. After the body has been “cleaned,” it is laid in linen to be visited by “Sagdid” (a dog that casts away evil spirits) and mourners (who are forbidden from touching the corpse). Finally, the linens are removed using special tools that prevent members of the community from touching the defiled garments and the deceased is placed on the top of a “Tower of Silence” to be consumed by vultures; a process that’s seen as doing the smallest possible amount of harm to the living.
Bo Suspended Coffins
The Bo practice of suspending coffins from the cliffs located above the Hemp Pond Valley in Southwest China’s Gongxian County is about the only thing that remains of this culture, which was wiped out by the Ming Dynasty more than 500 years ago. While it remains unknown why the Bo interred their dead in this manner, the rock face above Crab Stream — which holds 160 coffins at a height of almost 300 feet – still features bright red painted murals that depict the lives of the civilization, which locals refer to as “Sons of the Cliffs” and “Subjugators of the Sky.”