Fascinating funeral traditions around the world

Anukriti Banerjee

24 November 2020

The internet is a place full of strange and wondrous things. Earlier this year, a meme featuring Ghanian pallbearers went viral. The dancing pallbearers of Ghana received enormous attention on social media for their elaborate ritual as a way to pay respects to the dead. As one woman said in an interview, “(being joyful) is the maximum respect we can give (and how) we can give a befitting burial.” The meme from Ghana has brought a lot of smiles during the coronavirus lockdown. It also prompts us to think about the many ways in which cultures honour their loved ones. From funeral strippers to jazz parties, the examples below of unusual funeral traditions challenge our perception of death as a sombre and mournful occasion.

(Disclaimer: The following instances are only some examples of rituals followed by certain groups of people. They are neither meant to generalise nor belittle any cultures.)


South Korea: Death beads

In 2000, the government in South Korea passed a law stating that the graves of loved ones must be removed after sixty years due to the lack of space for burial grounds in the country. The government actively encourages cremation, but one startup decided to take things a step further. In 2011, an Icheon-based company, Bonhyang, began to turn loved ones’ ashes into beads that people can keep in their homes in dishes or glass containers. The service costs $900 and although a relatively novel concept, it is growing increasingly popular.

Source: TrendMonitor


Sweden: Death cleaning

The name may be off-putting, but a deeper understanding of the practice increases our appreciation of its practical and efficient nature. Based on the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson, döstädning (literally “death-cleaning”) calls for individuals to declutter their space to make the grieving process easier for loved ones. It is more challenging for family members to remove someone’s worldly possessions after their passing than it is for the person to do it themselves beforehand. The practice isn’t widespread in Sweden, but more people are starting to talk about it.

Source: Family Handyman


USA: The New Orleans jazz funeral

Similar to the Ghanian pallbearer dance, there exists a number of musical rituals around the world. The New Orleans jazz funeral in Louisiana, USA, is one of them. An amalgamation of West African, French, Spanish and African-American traditions, some funeral processions in New Orleans are led by a marching band playing jazz tunes. Although melancholic at first, upbeat music follows the burial of the body. Dancing also accompanies the music as a way to commemorate and celebrate the life of the deceased.

Source: Metro News


Taiwan: Funeral strippers

One of the most unique traditions, funeral stripping, originates in Taiwan. One custom in the country is to hire professional entertainers to boost attendance at funerals as large crowds are seen as a way to honour the dead (source: BBC News). Although the practice of stripping naked is no longer common, it is not unusual to see suggestive dancing at some funerals generally in the rural areas of Taiwan and Mainland China. In fact, in 2015, fifty pole dancers accompanied former Chiayi County Council Speaker Tung Hsiang’s procession (source: CNN). Despite its presence since the 1800s, the Chinese government is increasingly cracking down on the custom as it feels that it is “obscene and vulgar” (source: BBC News).

Source: Marc L. Moskowitz


Mexico: Day of the dead

Arguably one of the most famous traditions, Día de Muertos (Day of the dead), is a Mexican holiday celebrated annually to remember friends and family who have passed and help them on their spiritual journey. In Mexican culture, the day is not viewed as one of sadness but rather as a celebration of loved ones’ legacy. Rituals commemorating the dead have been around for nearly 3000 years and date back to pre-Colombian cultures (source: National Geographic). Ornate altars, sugar skulls, tasty bread, flowers and dances are just some aspects of the colourful rituals; each significant in its own way. Today, the celebration is recognised by UNESCO and becoming popular in mainstream media as exemplified by the Disney movie Coco. While appreciation and celebration of the tradition are encouraged, it is important not to be culturally insensitive by misappropriating its elements. For the curious ones reading this article, the event is organised in Singapore by the Embassy of Mexico and The Mexican Association in Singapore and is open to all!

Source: The Independent

While the passing off a loved one undoubtedly brings sadness, these examples show alternate ways of remembering and honouring them, which can provide some relief through the grieving process. In the same spirit, Timeliss provides a range of services from showcasing a person’s history to decluttering the complex process of planning for end-of-life. Planning for your own or someone else’s passing is never easy. However, preparing early on can relieve emotional stress later and Timeliss can ensure that the process is as smooth, transparent and comfortable as possible.


Anukriti Banerjee
Energetic and positive, Anu constantly strives for excellence in herself and seeks to be an integral part in building our future cities to be 100% inclusive and sustainable.

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