Death refers to the permanent end of all processes that sustain life in a human being. Grief and mourning are major elements of death in all societies (Khapaeva, 2017). Grief refers to intense sorrow caused by loss of a loved one. On the other hand, mourning refers to the passionate and demonstrative activity of expressing grief. Response to loss caused by death varies depending on factors such as personality, culture, as well as religious beliefs and practices. According to psychologists, the variations are also dependent on the amount of support one gets from close friends and family members (Lipset & Silverman, 2016). This is very important because bereaved people tend to reassess their perceptions and understanding of various elements of life in the face of great pain. Lack of the necessary support at this time leaves one highly vulnerable to experiencing trauma (Khapaeva, 2017). Although death is an inevitable part of life, different cultural believes and practices across the world have demystified the phenomenon, as evidenced in the fact that there is no universal way of disposing a dead body.
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This study will engage both qualitative and quantitative research. This research will focus on gathering enough information to develop an in-depth understanding of the different perceptions of death across cultures and the influencing factors. It will further seek to answer the “why” and “how” with regard to the different perceptions about death. The research will also examine the phenomenon through observation, review of past studies, questionnaires, and interviews. In conducting the interviews and filling of the questionnaires, the sampling process will be conducted randomly. This will help in ensuring that the results are scientific enough to represent the whole population.
Death is an experience that people have become used to over the years. Most death practices across the world involve a funeral, which is a ceremony where a dead person is buried or cremated. They are often embedded in deep cultural practices where a variety of traditions give a reflection of the widespread beliefs and values attached to death (Lipset & Silverman, 2016). Cultures across the world honor their dead in various ways, although some have been largely criticized and labeled as being odd. However, the need to promote culture means that different death rituals will continue to be observed across the world.
One of the common death practices in the world is the South Korean burial beads. In 2000, authorities in the country passed a law that requires people to remove the graves of their loved ones after 60 years (Khapaeva, 2017). This move was influenced by what the government described as dwindling graveyard space. In response to the legislation, some families have opted to cremate their loved ones. However, majority of South Koreans have turned into a technology that compresses the ashes into gem-like colorful beads that are often displayed in the homes of the bereaved family (Mims, 2014).
While in the west black is often used as the color of mourning, the case is different in China where they use white. This is one of the highly criticized death practices in the world because sociologists believe that it has compromised the ability of young people in the country to express their emotions appropriately (Gire, 2014). Using white as the color of mourning has been described as something unlucky, thus the reason why a Chinese person will consider it inappropriate if someone gives them white flowers (Lipset & Silverman, 2016). Rituals conducted in Chinese funerals vary depending on the age and social status of the dead person. The old people and those of high social status are accorded longer periods of mourning. During funerals, mourners learn more about the deceased, whom they show respect by sobbing and wailing.
In Japan, rituals conducted for the dead are quite different. In the country, death is considered a sign of liberation, where people are expected to accept it and do little or no grieving (Khapaeva, 2017). People condole with the bereaved family by giving them money, which is often put in white envelopes sealed with black ribbons. Bodies are often cremated and the ashes shared between the family, the temple, and the employer of the dead person. All the dead people in Japan are remembered during a ceremony held in the month of August for three days. In the country’s culture, life is considered as cyclical. This means that they believe the dead have certain powers such as the ability to bless or curse the living (Mims, 2014).
Elaborate Coffins in Ghana and Life after Death
Ghana represents one of the African countries where people also believe in life after death (Renfrew, Boyd, & Morley, 2016). In the country, the dead are buried in elaborate coffins that represent the values they believed in as a way of seeing them off as they venture into the next phase of their lives. In a country where coffin makers are highly regarded and sought artists, caskets are often have unique designs of cars, animals, and beer bottles among others. This is done as a show of respect and a representation of the identity that the deceased had created for him or her self (Mims, 2014). Funerals in Ghana are important social events that involve the whole community. They are often advertised in mainstream media and on billboards just to make sure that they are attended by as many people as possible. The intensity of funerals is often determined by the complexity of catering required and the number of animals slaughtered to feed mourners.
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Religion and Death Rituals
In cultures that are majorly based on religious beliefs and practices, several variations with regard to death rituals are quite visible. In Hindu, people prefer their loved ones to die at home where they have a good chance of spending the last moments together. They do not set aside a lot of time for mourning, as bodies are often cremated in less than a day after the death occurs. In the culture, this is done as a way of liberating the soul of the dead as quickly as possible (Khapaeva, 2017). During the ceremony, mourners are expected to wear white and avoid carrying with them any form of foodstuffs. The ashes are often scattered over water. In the case of Muslims, the dead are only buried and cannot be cremated. This is done because they believe that the dead will be physically resurrected on the judgment day. Their graves are usually raised above the ground to avoid people walking on them, as well as burry with bodies facing Mecca. In Muslim funerals, it is considered inappropriate for mourners to wail (Renfrew et al., 2016).
Environmentally Friendly Funerals
The United States of America, is one of the most civilized and advanced countries in the world. Over the years, funeral practices in the country have changed a lot, as everyone seems to have an inclination to environmental protection (Lipset & Silverman, 2016). One of the common death practices in the country is green funerals, where people are choosing to use biodegradable caskets that putrefy into the ground over time. According to the country’s Green Burial Council, 40 cemeteries have received approval across the country to offer green burials. Many Americans are also choosing the option of having the remains of their loved one compressed into a sphere, which is then used to provide habitation to sea life by attaching it to a reef in the ocean (Mims, 2014).
Chasing Away Spirits of the Dead
In Mongolia, they have an interesting death ritual that is inspired by the people’s believes about the spirits of the dead. Buddhists in the landlocked socialist republic in central Asia are known for holding sky burials. Instead of burying the dead body, they often chop it into pieces that are then placed at the top of the mountain hoping that they will attract vultures and other elements that will take it away. This practice is guided by the notion that once someone dies, the soul moves on to another life and the body remains just a bare vessel (Gire, 2014). This is the reason behind their decision not to burry the body. The tradition has existed for several centuries and a large percentage of Buddhists in the contemporary world continue to observe it.
Madagascar has one of the strangest death practices in the world. The fourth largest island in the world has a ritual called “Famadihana”, which means turning of the bones. In the ritual, a family has one opportunity every five years to exhume the bodies of their loved ones, wrap them in clothes and then spay them with wine. In a ceremony that is characterized by live band music, the family members then dance with the bodies. This dance provides the people with an array of opportunities. Some use it to converse with the deceased by either updating them on the happenings in the family or asking for the blessings (Mims, 2014). Others take this opportunity to honor the deceased by sharing some of the best memories they had together.
The aboriginal society in Australia also has an interesting death ritual. Located in the country’s Northern Territory, death in the community is ushered with a number of elaborate rituals. When someone dies, a smoking ceremony is often conducted where one used to live as a way of driving his or her spirit away from the community (Lipset & Silverman, 2016). This is then followed by a feast, where mourners eat food and engage in dancing with their bodies painted ochre. The dead body is not often buried, but placed on an elevated platform and covered with leaves for it to decompose.
Cultures across the world respond to and handle dying in different ways. While some cultures prefer to burry the dead, others choose to cremate the bodies and dispose the ashes in a variety of ways. Death is an occurrence that involves elements such as grief and mourning, which are also observed differently across cultures. Some cultures accept death more easily than others do, thus allocate very little time for people to mourn before conducting a funeral. For others, it is important for family members, close friends, and the whole community to have enough time to mourn the deceased through prayers, dance ceremonies, and food festivals. In developed countries such as the United States, death practices are becoming more environmentally friendly as the world continues to mitigate the effects of global warming and climate change. People in the country have opted to burry their loved ones in biodegradable coffins.
Gire, J. (2014). How death imitates life: Cultural influences on conceptions of death and dying. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 6(2).
Khapaeva, D. (2017). The celebration of death in contemporary culture. Chicago, IL: University of Michigan Press.
Lipset, D., & Silverman, E. K. (2016). Mortuary dialogues: Death ritual and the reproduction of moral community in pacific modernities. New York, NY: Berghahn Books.
Mims, C. (2014). When we die: The science, culture, and rituals of death. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Renfrew, C., Boyd, M. J., & Morley, I. (2016). Death rituals and social order in the ancient world: Death shall have no dominion. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.