Burial Customs: Superstition & Practices

burial customs

While some people believe that death is a final act, others hold that death is in fact the first act of one’s afterlife. In turn, many cultures have developed customs & superstitions that are manifested through the final preparations of the recently departed.

The origin of common phrases such as six feet deep and six feet under,  were a  result of Daniel Defoe’s fictional work,  A Journal of the Plague Year. In that popular account,  London’s lord mayor required newly dug graves in the 1660s to be at a minimum depth of six feet deep to limit the spread of the plague.

Let’s dig into a few of the lesser-known death customs and superstitions from around the world…


cave grave

Cave Graves

Hawaii is beautiful, but while you are out taking in those beautiful landscapes, beware that the caves may have a darker surprise waiting under your feet.

Hawaiian cave burial is a tradition in which a body is bent into a kneeling or fetal position and then tied in that position and put in any number of sea-side cliff caves. The body is covered with a tapa cloth. Often the internal organs are removed and the body is filled with salt to help better preserve it, since the bones of ancestors are said to have divine power. Such burial sites are commonly located along the shores of Maui.

Hawaii is also host many underwater caves that are also gravesites.

 


End of the Road

maasai

The Maasai of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania reserve burials only for chiefs as a sign of respect.

For all others, the remains are left for scavengers to consume as the body is seen as harmful to the soil. The Maasai do not believe in an afterlife, remains of human bodies are used far more naturally- as a food source for the animals in the area.


Rolling over in your grave

isabel malala razafindrakoto

In Madagascar, Famadihana is a celebration thrown for the dead by their family.

The Famadihana, or turning of the bones, is actually done every few years.

Family members of the deceased will retrieve the remains, wrap them in a cloth and celebrate with them in dances and other activities. This custom has developed in part out of the longstanding belief that the soul does not leave the body immediately, rather lingering until it is ready to depart.

The practice is on decline after in 2017 authorities warned families not to exhume bodies due to risk of plague.


Propped Up at Wake

boxer corpse posed
Boxer Christopher Rivera Amaro propped up and ringside at his own wake after being murdered in 2014 in Puerto Rico.

As a way to preserve a lasting memory of their lost loved ones- Puerto Ricans began replacing traditional wakes with what have become known as ‘extreme wakes’ where a scene is created and the deceased person is propped up.

This custom is not new however, the Victorians made such practices commonplace in Western cultures during the 1800s in line with the development of modern photography.