Funeral Traditions

Dealing With Death Across Cultures

Death in Native American Culture

Although the Native American culture is not homogeneous in any way (562 officially recognized tribes,) there are commonalities across Native American subcultures. Funeral ceremonies are very communal in nature, being led by a medicine man or spiritual leader in the homeland of the deceased.

  • Funerals are celebratory, celebrating the eternal nature of life and nature itself. Great feasts are prepared to celebrate the life of the deceased.
  • In the Dakota tribe, the deceased's face was honorably painted with the color red, believed to be "the color of life."
  • Native Americans saw death not as something to only be mourned, but as a celebration of transition from one stage of life to another.

Ancient Egyptian Funeral Traditions

  • Ancient Egyptian funeral traditions vary drastically from modern Western customs. Depending on the wealth and status of the deceased, bodies were extensively cleaned and embalmed by ornately-dressed priests before being wrapped in high-quality linen through the process of mummification. To be mummified was considered a great honor and served the purpose of extremely effective bodily preservation.
  • Religious and spiritual rites changed throughout the lifetime of Ancient Egypt, but they always focused on the journey the deceased's spirit would take through the Underworld before finally achieving a place of glory and rest according to their position in mortal life.
  • Wealthy individuals especially buried in ornately decorated monuments with the valuable possessions of their normal life. According to ancient belief, these gifts could be used by the spirit in the afterlife.

Traditional Chinese Funeral Customs

Funerals in China blend centuries-old tradition with newer influences

  • Buddhist funeral proceedings may last up to 49 days, with the first 7 days being the most important.
  • Daughters of deceased generally responsible for paying funeral costs
  • No one attending any funeral event wears red clothing items out of respect and reverence for the deceased.
  • Multi-day prayer services held often throughout the weeks of remembrance, with prayers being lead generally by the head of the family (usually patriarchal.)
  • Household traditions include covering all statues of traditional Chinese deities with red paper and removing all mirrors from the deceased's home. It is believed that seeing the reflection of a casket of a family member can signify another family death in the near future.
  • Bodies are cleaned, dressed nicely in clothing only of the colors white, black, blue, or brown, and buried in traditional caskets sometimes decorated with fine woodworking or appointments.