Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cultural Death Ceremonies

Okay the title is very morbid, but I have always been curious about this subject. How come different cultures have differents ways of seeing of the dead?

For example, in Mexico death is more of a celebration of the loved ones lives, instead of being extremely dark and gloomy. They even have celebrations such as the Day of the Dead to not only bring them back, but also to celebrate and appreciate their lives.

In the United States, funerals take on a different role, and it is meant to remember, rather than celebrate a life well-lived. Funerals are usually very solemn and rarely festive, like the Mexican culture.

How can you explain these differences? How do other cultures, say "goodbye"?


KatiZ said...

I am not trying to stereotype here, but if you compare the stereotypical American culture with the stereotypical Mexican culture, Mexican's have a lot stronger family bonds, Americans tend to be more self-oriented while in the Mexican culture family often comes first. I'm not sure how this directly relates to the way we view death, but you see how "The Day of the Dead" is a day where Mexican's can almost spend time with that deceased family member again, they give it a lot of time and energy in preparation. In American culture we are so caught up in our own lives spending that much time on a celebration would be "inconvenient". Another thing that I thought of while I was writing this is the fact that America has such a wide variety of cultures in it, it is hard for us to have a certain custom for something most ethnic groups or religions have their own customs for.

Kenshin_Himura said...

I, personally, have yet to have any member of my family die, yet.

The closest I have been to death is my neighbors funeral, which I found interesting.

It was basically a huge memorial service, something I was not accustomed to...

I know that in most other countries, families are close, but religion also has an important aspect...
Soem cultures believe you simply have left the world of the living, but are not gone.
Perhaps the acceptance that there never really is a goodbye may influence how cultures accept death.

Wrightla said...

I think that the difference between cultures' burial ceremonies is due to differences in the lifestyles and values of that culture. In Scandanavia Vikings (Viking leaders anyway) were buried in under their boats with their weapons and armour. This custom is related to the fact that boats were their livelihood and symbol of status. And by being buried under their boat they showed that they were of high enough status to have one. In the modern US burial serves to also show a person's status, the number of people at a funeral or memorial shows how "well-liked" that person was, and the headstone of their grave shows how wealthy they were etc..

I think in most cultures, a burial ceremony is a symbol of the deceased's status in society.

To touch more on the celebration vs remembrance discussion, I think that it is another culture difference on how that culture views death. Whether as a new beginning or as the End. I think that Orson Scott Card's The Speaker for the Dead (the sequel to Ender's Game) shows an interesting and different remembrance ceremony.


riverJordan said...

European cultures, such as Britain have had funerals resembling those of the US in custom for centuries now, however displays of grief, ie crying are so generally accepted overseas. Oddly enough, in Ireland, it is required that the so called "mourners" must burst into loud tears over the coffin. And, for Jews, the proper mourning of the deceased is just as, if not considered more important than the burial itself.

Of course, being a funeral, religion plays an enormous part in the dictation of customs, but also the past of the country itself. I find the US amazingly detached when it comes to funerals. We bury someone, have a wake and it's over. No 3 days of coffin-side mourning, no celebration of life. Americans are scared of death. We've never had a plauge or a conquistador or a famine. We don't know death like many other cultures, and when someone does die, we are too isolated in our own reality to notice it.

tsizzinc said...

Theres this intimidating notion of death, before i post my opinion i want to see what everyone thinks about it.

Whats the first thing that comes to mind when the word
is mentioned? Respond please.

Kenshin_Himura said...

First word that comes to mind when you say death?

I say peace

tsizzinc said...

kenshin, nice

i suppose you believe that you will receive eternal peace after death, cool, kinda killed my point about it being intimidating but im glad u brought it up!

more please

katrina337 said...

I do believe a lot of people in America are afraid of death, I think it's a mix of religious beliefs and cultural beliefs that make our view of death differentiate.

And to TC's question: Deep, dark, serenity.

CaitlinCeara said...

Its not all of America that sees death as sad. Its southern tradition to put on nice and elegant black clothes and go to the funeral and moun...I mean mourn hard. But after the body is in the ground you go eat a HUGE meal and party. Tell stories and laugh and such. It almost just varies from families. My cousing wants a white trash funeral so that people will laugh. I want a group of people to get together and prepare so that when they put me in the ground a buch of people start dancing and singing as if it were a musical (I'm thinkign "So long, farewell" from The Sound of Music is a good song).

My dad always tells us about how the Jezuit missionaries deal with a death from the order. They stay up all night eating and singing becasue they are celebrating that one of thier order gets to finally go home.

pjuang said...

awesome question roberto,
I think the way different cultures handle death is like a summation of their beliefs. Not to make generalizations, but Spanish culture seems to be able to focus on the positive sides of leading a good simple life and valueing honesty and helping each other.
Egyptian, Chinese, and Korean (for what I know) pay homage to their dead demonstrating their respect for their elders, dead, and even the unknown. Some asian based cultures believe in spirits and the afterlife because they believe that ancestors will protect them.
TC- I think of ghosts and layin in the cold earth for eternity... scary, so I believe in reincarnation by the way

susanna.w said...

I agree with Logan that a culture's death ceremonies have a lot to do with its values and cultural aspects specific to it. Mexico has a huge folklore foundation and some unique superstitions which form the DAy of the Dead celebration. In America, the culture is much more focused in each family and depends on family experiences.
In China, for example, it is tradition that the daughter organize her mother's funeral and have everything prepared years before the actual death. They buy the coffin, traditional sacrifices, etc with everyone's knowledge in acceptance that the death will eventually happen. This is just the way it was done for many generations.