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Cultural Differences in Burials

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4911 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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 Different types of burials with cultural differences 

Burials in the Unites States have changed over time and it really depends on the cultural beliefs of the family.  Religion can affect how with how we bury members of our family.  Jewish traditions are different than Polynesian.  Mormon traditions are different than others.  Traditions of going to the cemeteries on certain holidays have changed over time.  At one-point families would get together and have a meal as a family in the cemetery at their headstone.  By looking at the past you can see the changes that have come about with changes in the belief systems, or changes in the laws of local or state government.  While society has never agreed on one religion, different religious have various ways to burial.  But they all have one thing in common, burials are meant to allow grieving for the dead and an opportunity to say goodbye.  By comparing and contrasting Muslim, Polynesian, Jewish, and Christian religious traditions to burial, one can see how change has come around but at the same time somewhat remain the same.

 Traditional Muslim burial customs:

They believe to have burial as soon as possible.  The intent is to have the burial at sunset or within 24 hours. The 24-hour burial requirement is not found in the Qur’an.  The thought is to the cultural practice to respect the body and avoid decay.  Autopsies’ and embalming are not preformed due to the belief that it would injure the body.  Most often the body is washed and wrapped in a white shroud.  Prayers are given over the body, then the body is taken to the cemetery for burial.  Respect is given to the deceased just as if they were alive.  Viewing of the body is not allowed except for the immediate family after the washing.  In some Muslim countries’ women are not allowed to be in the cemetery until after the burial the thought is that they will be too emotional.  In some Muslim countries the body is taken in procession through the street with the body in a casket.  Burial is usually without a casket the belief is that the body becomes part of the soil.  The body is buried with the head turned towards Mecca. After the burial the women are allowed to come closer.

Traditional Jewish burial customs:

Some similarities to Muslim.  Burial is as soon as possible, usually within 24-48 hours.  Embalming is against Jewish law, you are to go as you came.  Cremation is forbidden it is considered a violation of Jewish law that you will not harm the body.  The funeral is often within a week of death, if waiting for a relative to come that may take some time to get there the body will be refrigerated.  There is a practice of using wooden caskets so that it will also deteriorate.  The body is buried in a white garment similar to a gown.  The casket will be closed at the funeral, generally a simple service with scripture and prayers and eulogy.  With reformed Jews the deceased may be buried in regular clothing.  After the funeral Traditional Jews will conduct and evening service at the home of the deceased for seven days, Reformed Jews will do this between one to three days.  There is also a second mourning period that is 30 days long. 

Traditional Christian burial customs: 

There is a general belief in what is called the trinity (God the father, Jesus, Holy Spirit) are all in one.  Generally Christian burials are similar and different at the same time according to each religious belief system.  Some of these differences are due to culture or location, and some have changed over time.

Baptist Burial customs:

There are generally two large denominations of Baptist, Southern Baptist Convention and National Baptist Convention. There are two different schools of thought with beliefs on the afterlife.  One Believes that you will go directly to paradise after death.  The other believes you will arise in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Practices of worship can change by region.  Funeral customs focus on religion and spirituality of a person’s life.  It could be very solemn or a joyous celebration.  Eulogies are centered on family and faith.

Episcopal Burial Customs:

 Similar to other Christian faiths, services can be held at church or funeral home.  Guests can sit where ever they want.  There is no designated seating.   A priest will lead the service.  The service can include a biblical lesson.  Non-member are expected to kneel and pray with the rest as long as their religious beliefs are not compromised.  They use a “Book of Common Prayer” as a primary resource for hymns and reading that could be used.

Greek Orthodox Burial Customs:

 Is often termed as Orthodox Church, this can include Carpatho-Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Greek, and Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Their belief that the body separates from the soul at death.  With the coming of Christ Judgement will be given and placement in heaven or hell will happen.  It is customary to have a Wake the night before the funeral.  Friends and loved ones are invited to speak about the deceased.  A priest will supervise what is called Trisagion (Thrice-Holy) service.  At the funeral service guest may embrace the family with the saying “Memory Eternal”.  It is usually an open casket. Some might kiss an icon or iron cross that is laid on the chest of the deceased.  Often after the funeral a lunch of Fish is served.

Jehovah’s Witness Burial Customs:

 The Beliefs are a little different in that there is an expectation that the end of the world will be soon.  Christ will return to rule over all.  They do not partake in politics or interfaith groups.  They believe at death the soul will wait to be resurrected and remain unconscious state until this happens. Funeral services are short 15-30 minutes.  They take place within a week of death.  Men will wear dark suit and tie and Women will be simply dressed.  Funeral will take place in Kingdom Hall (church) or a funeral home.

Roman Catholic Burial Customs

 Belief in resurrection and second coming of Christ.  There is no guarantee of being admitted into heaven.  Mourners will pray for entry into heaven for the deceased.  If death is known to be coming a priest will be present to preform last rites, or last prayers and ministering after death.  Common elements of the funeral are:

 Virgil or wake is a prayer ceremony were gathering to pay respects to the family and the deceased. Will be held at the family home, funeral home, or church.  Eulogies, prayer, and singing of hymns are common.  The casket is open.

 Funeral Mass or Memorial Mass (if no remains are present) will always take place in the church.  Upon entering the church, the remains are sprinkled with holy water and placement of a pall.  This is for a reminder of baptism.   As the procession reaches the front an open Bible and crucifix will be placed on the casket for the services.  During mass the casket is closed.  Funeral Mass is preferred but not required.

 Next, the remains are transported for burial.  The burial ceremony will be presided over by the priest.

Cremation at one time was forbidden.  In the 1960’s the church relaxed the rules.  It has also given more clarification in that the remains need to be in a scared place, such as a cemetery, and not sitting on a mantel in an urn or scattered about.  Placement cremains may happen in a mausoleum. 

Presbyterian burial customs

The belief in that Christ and the Holy Sprit are divine.   The central doctrine in the faith is the resurrection, at death reaffirm with joy the hope in the gospel.  Burial is a few days after death.  Funeral services will be at the church of the funeral home.  A pastor or minister will preside over the funeral.  Services are meant to remember the deceased and give thanks for life and recognize God’s power over death.  A viewing with an open casket may be held before services.  During services the casket is closed.

Methodist burial customs.

 Methodists believe in life being eternal and one can look forward to life with God after death.  The funeral service is used to celebrate, and consider the joy of the deceased’s life.  The funeral may take place at a funeral home, cemetery, gravesite, or at a church.  Services will include a eulogy, hymns, and a sermon.  The pastor will lead the congregation in prayer.

Mormon burial customs

They have similar beliefs to Catholic, Orthodox, and Baptist faith with the exception of the belief in the trinity.  They believe that resurrection will happen with the second coming of Christ.  Traditionally family members will dress and bathe the person that died in their temple clothes which are White.   This is a symbol of purity.  Modest clothing is acceptable for the funeral service. 

Sikh burial customs

 They believe in reincarnation and karma.  Death is a natural part of life, it is part of the cycle.  The soul uses the body to journey back to its God from which they came.  Sikh’s prefer cremation over burial.  The cremains are submerged into a river.  Typically, there is no monument erected.  Crying and displays of emotion is not encouraged.  The body is taken to a place of worship before cremation. Prayers are given and hymns are sung.  Then the body is taken to the place of cremation.  More hymns are done and speeches about the deceased.  At the close a prayer is said.  The youngest son or close family member will start the process of cremation.

Buddhist burial customs

 Funeral customs can vary by region.  An alter is set up with the deceased’s picture along with offerings such as fruit, candles, incense.  An image of Buddha is placed on or near the alter.  Services are presided over by monks who deliver a sermon and perform Buddhist rites.  At a traditional funeral family member will wear white or cover clothing with a white cloth.  Mourners will walk with canes, chant or sing, ring gongs or bells, offerings of flowers or fruit, incense to sweeten the air. The belief that death is not the end, just a process to get to one point to another.  Cremation is traditional and burial is acceptable.

Zoroastrian burial customs

 Death is considered polluting and needs to be avoided because of this a corpse in viewed as unclean.  The belief of impurity should not contaminate earth, air, fire, water brings a difficult way of dealing with the dead.  Cremation, submersion is not possibility for the Zoroastrian.  When Zoroastrian nears death, a priest is called to hear confessions, so they can die with a prayer on their lips.  Traditionally after death the corpse is washed and dressed in clean but old clothing.  Then carried to the funeral grounds.  The corpse is put into a special house, with a fire burning and a dog to chase away evil spirits.  When the preparations are complete, the body is taken to what is called dakhma (tower of silence) that is nearby.  The face of the corpse is uncovered so the family can have a final good bye.  Next the corpse is carried into the dakhma a shroud at the top of the tower is removed and opened up.  The relatives pray on the outside nearby while vultures pick the flesh clean of the bones.  After the bones have dried in the sun, they are moved in the dakhma to further decompose. With the lowering of the size of the community and members being widely dispersed.  Burial is now an accepted alternative, but the body has to be placed in a lead lined coffin to prevent corruption of the earth.

Lutheran burial customs

 Death is regarded as a new begging.  Those who have faith are guaranteed eternal life with God.  At a funeral guest are ushered to a seat.  The pastor conducts the service with reading from The Lutheran Book OF Worship or the Lutheran Hymnal.  Christians are expected to participate with kneeling and prayer.

Mennonite burial customs

 Mennonite practices are extensively varied. Basic beliefs are God remains with you faithfully through death and life is eternal with God after death. Men and women go through two separate doors when entering into the church.  Women do not wear pants. Women wear a kerchief on their head.  For a funeral they are dressed from head to toe in black.  The deceased is placed in a plain wooden casket.  The service could be in German.  With a mix of both high and low German spoken at the funeral. Singing from the hymnal is done with out musical accompaniment. After the service, movement to the cemetery starts.  At the cemetery a eulogy could be given followed by a prayer from the pastor.  The deceased is then lowered into the ground by hand with straps.  The men who attend then move with shovels to cover the casket.  The community works together.  Then they proceed to the church to a traditional funeral lunch, buns, butter, coffee, sugar cubes.

Quaker burial customs.

 Traditional Quakers meet in a plain looking meetinghouse.  There are no minsters due to the belief of being equal to God.  An elder will welcome everyone there could be singing of hymns or reading of scripture.  The unique thing with Quaker funerals is what is called “Open Worship”.  This is an opportunity for anyone moved by the spirit to give a message or say a prayer.  This is when there is silence.  At the close of service there is a prayer or song.  An elder near the front will turn and shake hands with his neighbor this is the signal the meeting is over.  Burial is short with a scripture, prayer, and a moment of silence.  A light meal is served after burial.

Pagan burial customs

 Belief in physical death is not the end of life.  At death you become in a state of rest, where healing and renewing of energy are done in preparation of rebirth.  At death the body is washed with a mixture of spring water, a few drops of ocean water, scented oil, and the herb rosemary for purity and protection.  During the washing special blessings similar to prayer are said.  The body is wrapped or dressed in a simple dress or cloth. A natural burial may be chosen.  Services may take place outside, this acknowledges nature.  They may invoke the four elements, earth, air, water, fire. Air is in the East, Water is in the West, Earth in the North, Fire is in the South.  There may be a wake or reception after the funeral.

Native American burial customs

 Native American burials are generally green.  Services are both sacred and communal.  All creation is considered sacred.  Unseen powers and mysteries are accepted and integrated into their beliefs with out question.  Death is thought of as a journey to another world.  Personal items can be placed into the coffin.  Can integrate Christian beliefs into services.

Polynesian burial customs

Samoan burial customs

Both ancient traditions and Christian traditions are blended together at death.  Traditionally death is considered God’s will. It is also believed that one should die at home.  This is because of the belief that one’s spirit could cause problems for the family.  Traditionally burial happens the day after death.  Now, it is common for a delay for other family members overseas to get there.  Funerals are flooded with gifts for the family, and in return the family gives gifts to their visitors.  A lavalava (skirt like wrap) is worn by men with a white shirt, tie, jacket and leather sandals.  A Pulu tasi (Muumuu) is worn by women.  The casket is open for visitation and closed for the funeral.

Tongan burial customs

 In Tonga colorful quilts are placed on racks at the grave and are exposed to the elements.  They are place when they become worn.  The grave itself is a concrete crypt covered in sand.   Due to the tropical climate burial is done as soon as possible.  They come together at church for mass and prayer.  The next morning the deceased is carried to the graveyard on trolley or truck decorated with quilts, straw mats, and tapa mats.  Before the body is lowered into the crypt the body is wrapped in tapa mats and banana leaves.  Then the crypt is covered with sand and decorated.  Gift exchange is similar to Samoan tradition.

Hawaiian burial traditions

 Some ancient burials happen in caves, some in Sand dunes.  The body is laid out and then put into a kneeling position with knees drawn into their chest. A rope is placed around the knees and neck.  The rope was then pulled tight into a rounded shape.  Then the body was wrapped with tapa mats.  Burial at sea is also considered an ancient tradition.  Bodies of fishermen were wrapped in Red cloth then put into the ocean to be eaten by the sharks.  There was a belief that the recently departed spirit would control the shark’s body and protect the fisherman from future attacks.

 Modern burial customs are similar to other traditions.  Services can be held in a church, funeral home, gravesite, or private home.  The casket is usually buried in the ground.  In Hawaiian tradition, brightly colored clothes are worn.  Black is not to be worn at the funeral.  Family and friends will gather together for dinner that evening.

Maori burial traditions

 Maori believe that wairua (soul) is returned to Hawaiki (ancient homeland).  This is accomplished through a spirit journey to Cape Reinga, (Te Rerenga-Wairua) the leaping place of spirits to the underworld.  The funeral ceremony is normally held at a marae, a courtyard in front of a meeting house where the deceased stays in an open casket with photos and flowers for those grieving to visit.  In modern times the funeral lasts three or more days.  The burial takes place on the last day.  In ancient times mourning could last for several weeks before burial. 

Chinese burial traditions

 Depending on age at death will reflect the type of funeral.  Chinese customs of burial for the young can be difficult because of the custom that elders will not show respect to someone younger than they are.  If a person is unmarried their body has to stay at the funeral home.  The parents are not allowed to offer prayers over the body.  This is reserved for their children.  If a child or infant dies there will be no funeral service.

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 Funerals for the elderly depend on social status and age.  The family will go into debt if they have to.  A casket is order while the person is on their death bed. After the person dies, the undertaker comes and takes care of the body.  The home is prepared by covering the deities with red paper and cover the mirrors.  This is done due to a superstitious belief that a person who sees the reflection of the casket in the mirror will experience another death in their family.  Traditionally a white cloth is hung in the doorways of the home.  A gong is placed near the door, on the right for females and on the left for males.  The deceased is cleaned and dusted with Talc, dressed in their best clothes.  Never dressed in red because of the belief that the deceased will turn into a ghost.  All of the rest of their clothes are burned.  Funeral services are conducted for 49 days, the first 7 are the most important.  Prayers are continued once a week; the length of the ceremony depends on the wealth of the family.  Family mourning will continue for 100 more days.

South Korean burial customs

 Ancient traditional custom the deceased is kept with the family for up to a week.  This is dependent on the season.  The body is prepared by washing with incense, the hair is then combed, the nails are clipped. The dressed in silk burial clothes, coins are placed over the eyes, cotton is placed in the ears and nose.  Rice is then placed in the mouth.  The deceased will be wrapped in several layers of fabric before they are placed into the casket.  When it is time for the funeral the casket will go through the doorway of the home.  This represents the division between the living and the afterlife.  As the family carry the casket to the cemetery, the mourners sing.  When they arrived at the front gates of the cemetery the casket is bowed three times.  A burial ritual is performed to keep evil spirits away.  Dirt is thrown onto the casket and offerings of food are placed near the grave.

Modern burials are done at funeral homes, burial is after the third day.  If the deceased wasn’t religious there may not be a funeral.  Some families still chose to do the traditional rituals.  Cremation is becoming more common due to no space left for burial.  Cremation is a cheaper option.  Cremains are now being turn into beads from the ash. 

There is a new trend of “Mock Funerals” this gives the individual the option to attend their own funeral.  They lie in the casket during their mock funeral.  The reason for doing a mock funeral can range from terminal illness to being curious.

New Orleans Jazz Funeral customs

 One of the most loved ways to commemorate the passage of death is a New Orleans Jazz funeral.  The music and dancing are meant to lead the deceased to heaven. This type of celebration grew in the 20th century.  Horse drawn hearses parade through the streets to honor the fallen, Police officers, firemen, military alike.  Funerals could last up to a week.  The funeral starts at the home of the deceased then proceeds to the church or funeral home.  After the memorial service then there is another parade to the cemetery.  Interestingly the tone of the parade is somber until after the deceased placed into the ground.  After the tempo changes and the celebration begins.

In conclusion some burial traditions are very different than others some change over time.  Popular culture can sometimes dictate how one is buried.  Beliefs and wishes of the family can change what will happen in a funeral and burial of the deceased.  Religion can have an influence on burial and funeral practices.  It can be very simple to very complex.  Wealth can also have influence in funeral and burial traditions.  Different cultures influence how we bury our dead.  In the process over time we have had to get more creative in how we do this either with burial, cremation, or some other way.  What was acceptable at the begging of the 20th century may not be as acceptable in the 21st century.  This has been caused by over crowding of cemeteries, or people want to plan for greener solutions.


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