The 5 Creepiest Death Rituals From Around the World (Part 2)
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.
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?"
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
"The butt. It's always the butt."
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.
Taiwanese Funerals Have Professional Mourners
The only thing sadder than a funeral is a funeral where no mourners show up -- either nobody comes or those who do aren't sorry to see the asshole go. None of us like to imagine our final goodbye happening in front of six bored people checking their text messages. Well, in Taiwan they have solved this problem in a way that is either batshit insane or so obvious we can't believe we didn't think of it -- there you can just hire some professional mourners to set the atmosphere.
The hardest part of the job is seeing the giant paycheck and still staying depressed.
The job of a professional mourner is exactly what the name suggests: They take part in funerals and bawl their eyes out in sadness for the deceased that, in reality, they have probably never met before. Mostly, a pro mourner is called to fill in for family members who, for whatever reason, don't want to publicly weep and despair but still want people to know (or think) that everybody is sad.
"Every moment I spent with [INSERT NAME HERE] was the greatest moment of my life.
I shall miss [INSERT NAME HERE] terribly."
There's also a premium package available, where the mourner can actually take the center stage and deliver heartrending speeches that really make the onlookers believe that it's them who've lost a family member (though the professional PA system they whip out for this presumably gives them away).
Attempted suicide in order to reunite with the dearly departed will run you an extra $50.
Of course, in reality everyone's in on the joke. Mourning for cash is an ancient and fairly respected, although controversial, profession. The practice originated when family members of the deceased were working far away and thus unable to make it in time for the funeral. In their stead, the other relatives would hire a "filial daughter" (mourners are generally female) to take care of all the wailing and crying. In modern times, however, mourners are mostly a status symbol for the families. And really, how could they not be? What neighbor wouldn't turn green with envy when they realized you're willing to pay strangers money to scream at your mom's funeral?
The Dani People Cut Off Their Fingers to Honor the Dead
Everyone has their own ways of mourning. Some lose their spouses and wear black for the rest of their lives. Others quickly get the cremation out of the way so they can jump in the trenches and resume the Great War of the Inheritance against the rest of the relatives. And then there are the ladies of the Dani tribe of Papua New Guinea who, whenever a family member dies, just flat-out start hacking off fingers.
Even the Yakuza's like, "Damn girl, you hardcore."
Yes, whenever a Dani passes away, the women of the family (adults and children alike) are traditionally expected to cut off a part of their fingers as a sacrificial gift to the deceased's potentially pissed-off spirit. Being a ritual, this isn't just your average vodka-and-machete amputation job, either. First, the expendable digit is tied off with string. They wait 30 minutes so the blood flow is cut and the digit goes numb. Then, a male relative takes a small stone blade specifically designed for this task, sharply bangs the lady's elbow on a stone to numb the arm ... and thunk!
Their grandma had neither string nor stone -- just teeth and a nearby thorn bush. Kids today are pussies.
Off to a bandage of healing herbs goes the bleeding hand, off to dry out goes the freshly cut digit. Once completely dry, it will be ceremonially burned to honor the dead, and its ashes will be stored in a special place.
As one might assume, this brutal custom of grieving can get pretty damned hard on the women, especially once the bodies start really piling up. See, the Dani men traditionally have a serious Spartan streak; they're a warrior culture with a history of fighting other tribes pretty much nonstop and, as such, dropping like goddamn flies. Luckily for the ladies, the practice is strictly outlawed these days ... though you can still find Dani women with eerily missing fingers.
"As long as they let me keep one fuck-you finger, I'm good."
Himanshu can be found pretending to know things he doesn't on Twitter.
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