My Wonderful Life

International Customs and Celebrations for Funerals

posted on 6/6/11 by Staff

Funerals are very important for several reasons. Not only is it a way for the living to celebrate the life of the deceased, but it’s an important part of the grieving process to help people find closure. 

Funeral traditions have derived from religious and cultural customs. MWL thought it would be fun to explore some of the different ways cultures choose to celebrate and mourn the death of loved ones. While MWL would love it if any of these ideas were used in modern-day funerals, we also believe that understanding their origin is the most respectful way to try to grasp their true meaning.

Funerals in Contemporary Jamaica:

- Funerals increasingly revolve around fantasy coffins and designer caskets

- The funeral services are routinely held two to three weeks after death, which gives the families ample time to plan elaborate ceremonies

- Caskets have come to be known as status symbols, symbolizing the persons place within the community

- Wakes are an important part of traditions here. Families gather to sing, eat fish and hard-dough bread, drink coffee, chocolate tea, and even alcoholic beverages

 - Your political parties can be the deciding factor in the colors used to decorate the ceremonies

- “Nine Night” is still celebrated, which consists of supporting the relatives of the deceased for nine nights. Lots of fried fish, cake, and bread is consumed and left out until midnight so the spirit of the person who died can come to have a snack. Dancing and singing also occurs, continuing sometimes for 40 nights after the death.

Source: Paul, Annie. "No Grave Cannot Hold My Body Down": Rituals of Death and Burial in Postcolonial Jamaica."Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 23 (2007): 142-162. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 6 June 2011.


Japanese Funeral Customs:

-The funeral is held the day after the wake

-They are given a posthumous name, which is then inscribed on a wooden tablet and place on the altar

-The lighting of incense plays a large role in the ceremony, as every member of the family will approach the altar, stand at attention, put their hands together with a rosary, and place a small amount of incense in the urn


Chief Mourners - Their main purpose is to walk around draped in beads with solemn faces

Ghana Traditions:

- The celebration of the deceased’s life begins at 5:30 a.m. on the day after they have passed away

- The family forms a “funeral committees” that handles all details related to the funeral, the wake, and any celebrations.

- Sometimes it takes months and possibly years for the family to bury the body until the family feels they have made necessary preparations

- This committee sends someone to the morgue daily to ensure the body will be easy to find when they need to retrieve it (problems have arisen in Ghana related to the disappearing of body parts)

- The house that hosts funeral celebrations must be painted.

- When the number of attendees is thought to surpass a certain amount, accommodations for venues like a field, school grounds, or a portion of a road are made

- Families wear clothing designed specifically for the celebrations. These pieces can also sometimes have tailored wordings. 


Native American Traditions (specifically Apache):

 - Offerings and prayers are made to the four directions and to mother earth and mother sky

- Cleaning liquid is given to all attendees to rub over their hands and over their head

- Corn meal is sprinkled over the body as a way to assure their safe passage on to the spirit plane

- During the burial, corn meal is also sprinkled over the attendees to offer the blessing of all life

- Material possessions of the deceased are given away to people in attendance at the funeral


Sulawesi Funerals (one of the four larger Sunda Islands of Indonesia):


- - -


Chinese Traditions:

- Customs for burial in China can be different due to your age, sex, religion, status, cause of death, or marital status

- Elders are held in high regard, and funeral rites for younger people may not even occur, especially if they are not married and don’t have children

When a death occurs, all statues of deities are covered and any mirrors in the house are removed. Seeing a coffin in a mirror is thought to bring death and bad fortune onto another family

- White clothes are placed over the front door of the household and a gong is placed outside the door (on the left for males and on the right for females)

- Ceremonies are either conducted for 49 days (with prayers said every seven days) or they are preformed every 10 days (with three succeeding periods of 10 days) until the body is buried or cremated


Religious Customs:

Religious affiliations also have strong beliefs on how to respect the dead. Here is a great article that covers how Judaism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Hinduism bury their own. Read more here.


Image Sources: Ghana, Native American, Japanese, Jamaica, ChineseTitle Image

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