Death is the one item on the human fear list that is goddamned guaranteed to one day meet us all. As such, every culture has ample time to worry about it and, of course, make plans on how to deal with it. Knowing that, and given humankind's penchant for handling pretty much everything it encounters with complete and utter insanity, it's no surprise that some of our death rituals have gotten a little ... inspired.
#5. The Merina People Dig Up Their Dead for a Dance Party
It's not like it's unusual for cultures to celebrate their deceased relatives -- it's just that in most cases those feasts and rituals use effigies and costumes in place of, you know, the actual corpse of their long-dead grandfather. Most, but not all.
Famadihana, or "turning of the bones," is a traditional death ritual of the Merina people in the highlands of Madagascar. Every seven years, families dig up the bodies of their deceased relatives to change their funeral clothes and, basically, to say: "Yo, uncle Phil, how's the whole 'shuffled off this mortal coil' thing working out for you?"
Rivonala Razafison/Africa Review
"If you get thirsty over the next eternity, we gotcha covered."
The ceremony is about happiness, not grief, and the only way to properly express your joy about getting to hang around the decayed remains of your loved ones is to party your butt off with them. As such, the whole thing begins with a massive, free-for-all celebration that can nearly bankrupt the family (who are stuck with the bill, because tradition). Size-wise, we're talking about the kind of gathering that attracts vendors who hang around the venue, selling frozen yogurt and cigarettes to the attendees.
Then, as the party reaches its climax, they dig up the remains of their ancestors and pass them around, tactfully marking the corpses with felt-tip pens so they don't get mixed up.
Antonin Jolly and Guillaume Combier
After all, burying the wrong corpse in the wrong grave? That would just be weird.
They take pictures of living family members posing with their dead relatives and use the opportunity to snag tiny mementos, such as pieces of funeral clothing, to keep under their mattresses (because of their belief that the clothing pieces help with infertility). The ceremony climaxes as the ancestors are hoisted on peoples' shoulders and ceremonially danced around their very own tombs as everyone parties around them.
Antonin Jolly and Guillaume Combier
Pass the dutchie on the left hand side.
At the end of the day, they lay the ancestors back to rest for another seven years. Luckily for the likely bewildered spirits of the dead, the Merina are taking their party thinking to Andrew W.K. levels; they actually re-bury the corpses with a bunch of fresh clothes, money, and alcohol, presumably to keep them going in the Afterlife Club while they wait for their next above-ground party.
#4. The Ifugao Let Their Corpses Stick (and Stink) Around for Eight Days
Quick: What's the first thing that happens when a person dies? Sure, there's shock and sadness and the occasional influx of tabloid journalists because there's no way anyone could do that with a bowling ball and lighter fluid and not wind up in a newspaper postmortem. But the absolute first thing that happens is the removal of the body. No matter how much we loved the person when they were alive, the moment life leaves their fleshy husk it becomes a gross-ass corpse, full of decay and terrifying stench and unpleasant gurgling noises. Save for the few people who are way too into such matters, everyone is generally happy to leave the handling of that collection of corporeal horror to the professionals.
And then there are the Ifugao people of Benguet, Philippines. They beg to call bullshit on the whole "haul the body off as soon as possible" part of our death rituals, and go for the exact opposite with their own. Whenever there's a death, the close relatives of the deceased prop up the body in a chair in front of his house, as if he was sitting on the porch and hanging around.
Roy Franklin Barton
Still less disturbing than Weekend at Bernie's.
The arms and legs are tied to the chair to keep the corpse in position. Its eyes are covered with a blindfold, partly so they don't have to witness the suffering of the living world, and (presumably) partly because come on -- if your funeral customs involve hanging around a dead dude, the least you can do is make sure he doesn't stare at you the whole time.
Oh, and the body stays there for eight days. In the heat and humidity of the freaking Philippines.
Throughout these eight days, the people in the village mourn and perform rites of passage to help the soul of the deceased reach its final destination. However, like in any funeral worth its salt, the mourning tends to soon lead to copious amounts of alcohol and a massive party, with the rotting corpse sitting in the middle of it all, silently reflecting on all the young'uns who are getting absolutely shitfaced around it. The slowly breaking body poses no horror to them, and they don't even mind the ever-present stink of death. In fact, it's not uncommon for people to sit around and crack jokes about the horrifying odor (Ha! Classic!) and presumably play the occasional game of "locate the leakage."
Roy Franklin Barton
"The butt. It's always the butt."
#3. The Yanomami Make Soup Out of Their Dead
The Yanomami are an indigenous tribe in the thick jungles of Venezuela, and there's no easy way to say this so we're just going to get it out of the way: They make soup out of their dead like it ain't no thing.
Banana soup, to be precise.
The Yanomami culture is traditionally very big on three things: spirituality, living as one with nature, and gleefully kicking the sorry ass of anyone and everyone in their immediate vicinity. Such a combination seems custom made for some pretty badass funeral rituals, and the Yanomami sure as shit deliver: Their funerals are a months-long process that begins when the remains of the deceased are taken far away from the village and ritually burned until only bones and ash remain. These are then collected in special containers and taken back to the village, where they play the most important part of the actual funeral ceremony: snacks.
"Ugh, gross ... too much cilantro."
The charred bones are beaten into fine powder and mixed into a banana stew with the ashes. The ensuing cocktail is then consumed by the family (and often the entire community) as a gesture of remembrance, love, and casual endocannibalism. Still, morbid as it may seem, the ritual is actually a vital one to the Yanomami: Unless the dead remains of the departed aren't consumed by their relatives and close ones, they will never find peace, and nobody wants their dreams haunted by a dead dude whose bones they neglected to properly wolf down.
It is possible that the banana has some significance in all this, but our bet is that they just add it because there's no goddamn way charred human bones can taste too good by themselves.