From dancing with corpses to drive-thru funeral parlours, we take a look at some ghoulish goings on from beyond the grave…
Okay, we admit it – talking about death can be a bit morbid. But since today’s Halloween, what better reason to broach the subject? And if you thought coffins and gravestones were spooky, just wait until you hear what spine-chilling last rites go on around the globe…
The Day of the Dead, or ‘Dia de los Muertos’ as it’s known down Mexico way, takes place between 31st October and 2nd November. It’s arguably Mexico’s most significant holiday, honouring loved ones who’ve slinked off this mortal coil. At this time, relatives usually visit tombs, decorating the graves, while at home they set up little altars adorned with candles, marigolds and salt. ‘Calacas’, or skulls, are the symbol of the annual event and come in all sorts of weird and wonderful forms – from ornaments to masks, through to skull-shaped sweets.
The Malagasy people of Madagascar are known for a rather bizarre ceremony called ‘bone turning’. Basically, this means opening up the tombs of deceased family members 7 years after they’ve passed away. They then spritz the corpses with perfume or wine before dancing with them in the streets and having a right old knees up. Reason being, islanders believe the spirits of the departed join their ancestors only once a body has decomposed.
The funeral custom on this little-known Pacific isle seems pretty innocuous to begin with – the dead are simply buried in the ground. Things take a rather macabre turn after a few months, though, when cadavers are dug up and the heads are cut off. The rest of the body is laid to rest once again minus its crowning glory. The severed head is then cleaned until just a Skeletor-like skull remains. This is then polished and buffed and given pride of place in the family home.
While we may have to decide between mahogany or oak at the undertakers, that’s not the case for lots of Ghanaians. In place of traditional caskets, they plump for brightly-coloured coffins. In fact, sometimes, they’re really outlandish, reflecting the deceased’s personality or profession. For example, a fisherman may well be buried in a giant wooden fish while a musician might be laid to rest in a fake piano or double bass.
Tibet’s seriously stony terrain make burials nigh on impossible. That’s why Buddhists there have come up with an altogether different approach to disposing of the dead – so-called ‘sky burials’. In short, bodies are chopped up and placed on rocky plateaus to be pecked at by vultures and scavenging birds. While it might sound odd to Westerners, it fits nicely with the Buddhist belief that bodies are just vessels for souls and should be returned to nature as part of the circle of life.
In most parts of the world, funerals tend to be quite sombre – but that’s not the case in the Donghai region of China. There, funerals are showy, status symbol events. The tradition goes that a dead man’s honour and reputation is directly related to the number of people who attend his service. As such, it’s been known for relatives to hire strippers to pull in crowds. The Chinese authorities haven’t been best pleased and have started to crack down on the trend.
It would seem the American tradition for drive-thrus isn’t just the preserve of McDonald’s and co. Over in LA, you can pay your last respects without having to leave the comfort of your car thanks to a drive-thru funeral parlour. The recently departed is placed in a casket behind a display window – which is interestingly made of bullet-proof glass due to the large number of gangs that use the facility. Chicago and Lousiana are also home to drive-thrus for the dead. Only in America…
Head to Sicily’s capital, Palermo, and check out the eerie Capuchin catacombs. Set across 4 long limestone tunnels deep beneath the city, these burial chambers are home to about 8,000 skeletons and mummies. Some lie in a tranquil state of repose, while others hang from hooks by their necks. While most of the ‘residents’ are monks who once belonged to the religious order, many are Victorian-age locals done up in their Sunday best – think bustle dresses and top hats. Dust and decay has taken its toll on the corpses though, with many resembling Thriller extras.
Funerals in the Tana Toraja region of Indonesia are anything but low key. Here the phrase ‘the bigger, the better’ seems to be the rule of thumb – ceremonies are all-singing, all-dancing affairs with feasting aplenty. It goes without saying such an extravagant occasion can carry a big price tag. But relatives are given a bit of breathing space to save up for the wake. While they’re doing this, bodies are wrapped up and kept at home. Saving periods can last anywhere between a couple of days through to a couple of years.
Thought that rings were just the symbol of engagements and weddings? Think again. Now you can wear your deceased loved ones as a diamond ring. An American company called LifeGem offers people the chance to turn your nearest and dearest into synthetic diamonds. In a nutshell, they capture the carbon from locks of hair or cremated remains, turn it into graphite and then put set it in a diamond press. Ring prices vary depending on the carat size, but a rock could set you back about $20,000.
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Author: Christian Torres
Published: October 31, 2014
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