Many of the world’s funeral traditions are grim and dark — mortuary cannibalism in old New Guinea and the practical (yet gory) sky burials of Tibet come to mind. Each culture has its own way of dealing with the dead, and what’s normal to one group may seem outrageous to the next. In western culture, many burial customs are a somewhat somber affair; but in other parts of the world (and sometimes even here on our own turf) there are any number of more festive traditions. The following funerals provide a glimpse of how other people in the world send off their dead.
1. United Kingdom: To the moon ... with a memorial space flight
For the celestially inclined, Heavens Above Fireworks literally makes space the final frontier, with four options to send the ashes of your loved one straight into the universe. There is the Earth-Return service, which launches “a symbolic portion” of cremated remains into zero-gravity space before returning to Earth. The Earth Orbit service launches a bit of remains into Earth's orbit and then vaporizes, “like a blazing shooting star” upon re-entry. The Luna Service places ashes in flight capsules and modules for either perpetual lunar orbit or a final resting place on the surface of the moon. And finally, the Voyager Service launches a flight capsule into deep space for a permanent celestial journey, “the opportunity to go to the stars and be at one with the cosmos, on a mission of exploration.”
2. Ghana: Coffin crafters think 'outside of the box'
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
When Seth Kane Kwei’s grandmother died, the carpenter decided to fulfill her lifelong dream of traveling by air, which he did by building her an airplane-shaped coffin. That was in the 1950s, and the rest is fantasy coffin history. Although Kwie wasn’t the first to create a figurative coffin, he is the most famed early adopter of the craft of bebuu adekai ("boxes with proverbs") in Accra, the capital of the West African country of Ghana. There are now 10 carpenters' workshops (like the one pictured above) in the area that produce custom coffins, ranging from sardines and pumpkins to a soccer balls and mobile phones — and everything in-between. The wonderful works are seen only during the funeral, then buried forever, but loved ones know that their dearly departed will have a swank place in the afterlife. You can see some of the creations in the short documentary, "Master of Coffins."
3. United States: Explosive send off
For those who want to send off their dead with a bang, there are a number of companies that will load cremated remains into firework shells for a stellar pyrotechnic display. The California-based company Angels Flight offers two funeral services: the Marine Fireworks Services on the ocean or the Beach Fireworks Services on the coast or on a lake. Services include more than 200 fireworks shells. (Ohs and ahs not included.)
4. Sweden: Ashes to ashes, dust to … compost
There is something undeniably poetic about returning to the soil to nurture new life, and in Sweden, your corpse can do so to its fullest potential. The Swedish company Promessa Organic AB turns a body into fertilizer by freeze-drying it, shattering the frozen corpse into a powder, and turning that into compost in a process they've termed "Promession." As it turns out, powdered human makes for a nutritious, fertile soil, suitable for planting a tree, bush or garden. The Promessa website notes that the process "can instill greater insight in and respect for the ecological cycle, of which every living thing is a part. The plant stands as a symbol of the person, and we understand where the body went."
5. United States: The ol’ tricycle hearse
Photo: Sunset Hills
For the eco-minded funeral, few other services can beat a natural burial, whereby chemical preservative are bypassed, biodegradable coffins or shrouds are used, and the land is nurtured and preserved. But few funeral homes offer a greener transportation option than Sunset Hills in Eugene, Ore., which has a hearse that relies on pedal power. Notes the site, “Our low-impact approach to natural burial may even utilize our unique custom tricycle hearse for 'One Last Ride' with family and friends to the celebration of life or to the final resting place.”
6. Australia: Rock 'n' roll forever
Photo: Krista Grinberga (Kalfu)/flickr
Long gone are the days when a depressive dirge was de rigueur. In fact, people in Australia have even moved beyond "Amazing Grace" as the go-to song. The largest cemetery Down Under, Centennial Park, has compiled a list of most-requested funeral songs — and while choices like "My Way" by Frank Sinatra and "Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole aren’t that surprising, it’s their list of most unusual funeral songs that fly in the face of convention. Given the proportion of rock songs here, it’s clear that although we all will inevitably die, apparently, rock 'n' roll won’t.
1. "The Show Must Go On" (Queen)
2. "Stairway To Heaven" (Led Zeppelin)
3. "Highway To Hell" (AC/DC)
4. "Another One Bites The Dust" (Queen)
5. "I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead" (Bon Jovi)
6. "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life" (Monty Python)
7. "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" (The Wizard of Oz)
8. "Hit The Road Jack" (Willie Nelson)
9. "I’m Too Sexy" (Right Said Fred)
10. Australian Football League club songs of the South Australia
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Unique to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar comes the tradition known as famadihana, or the Turning of the Bones. Every seven years dead relatives are exhumed, sometimes splashed with perfume or sparkling wine, rewrapped in fresh funeral cloth, and danced around to the accompaniment of a cheery live band. A ritual of respect for their departed ancestors, The New York Times explains that many Malagasy believe the boundary between life and death is not altogether impermeable, that the spirits of their ancestors can somehow pass back and forth. “To them, the famadihana is a time to convey the latest family news to the deceased and ask them for blessings and sagely guidance.”
8. Taiwan: Stripping for the dead
In Taiwan, respect for the dead is measured in crowd size, expense and boisterousness. (Want proof? Check out this video.) For lavish processions leading to the burial, the coffin is accompanied by floats, drum troupes, marching bands and even exotic dancers; that’s right, strippers. The girls work on "electronic flower cars" — custom truck-floats equipped with light and sound equipment that can become a stage. A stage equipped with poles, of course. The dancers shimmy and slide during the rites, and take it all off if the arrangements call for such ... becuase nothing says "Godspeed" like a little striptease.
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