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Six Most Unusual Burial Rites

No point going out with a whimper when you can do it in style. While you’re drafting your personal will, give some thought to how you’ll make your exit. These clans did in six of the most unusual burial rites ever.

1. Dancing the Night Away

Madagascar is known for being exotic in more ways than one. The African nation (population 26 million) is home to over 10,000 plant species, 90% unique to the world’s fourth largest island. Once a French possession, the independent nation hit the big screen in DreamWorks Animation’s 2005 dance-centric film. 

But its another ritual that’s Madagascar’s claim to fame — the annual turning of the bones or dancing with the dead. During Famadihana, relatives resurrect ancestors’ corpses from their funeral crypts, rewrapping their bodies and dancing with the bones to live music. 

The revitalized remains go back to their eternal resting places after being waltzed around the village.

2. Just Hanging Around

The Bo people of China were elevated to great heights when they passed on to the spirit world. Their hanging wooden coffins are suspended up to 130 metres high along the rocky cliffs above the Yangtze River. 

Jammed into crevices or tilting precariously on wooden pegs near the Three Gorges Dam, the 3,000-year-old tombs are gravity defying. The living may have believed making ancestors’ spirits happy would bring them earthly blessings, scholars think. Others believe burying the dead on high brought them closer to paradise. 

Not to mention, ensuring cliff-dwelling Gods protected them from evil in the afterlife.

3. Keeping Their Spirit Alive, Literally

The Anishnaabeg culture believe descendants of the dead have a duty to protect ancestors by preventing their burial sites from being disturbed. “The Dead need to be sheltered and fed, to be visited and feasted,” the 2007 Ontario Ipperwash Inquiry reported. 

Turns out it’s not that unheard of. The Toraja of Indonesia lay the dead to rest in special rooms at home. The makula or “sick” relative is fed, cared for, read Bible verses and taken to family events. 

Burial may not occur for weeks or years, until the family has saved enough for a prolonged funeral spectacle for the entire village. The mummy’s spirit is carried to the land of souls by a water buffalo, who is sacrified during the ceremony. Their body is entombed in a cliff or funeral tower.  

4. Heavenly Ascent

Compare that to Tibet, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia in China, where Vajrayana Buddhists send their ancestors’ souls heavenward by leaving their bodies to the birds and beasts. Sky burial gives life to animals who devour the deceased’s carcass as their soul exits its bodily vessel. 

The ancient Parsi of Mumbai, who practice Zoroastrianism, cleansed and bathed their dead before leaving them to the vultures. Like Buddhists, the faithful believed ridding the deceased of their physical body allowed their spiritual self to triumph.

5. Recyling Your Ancestors

Hannibal the Cannibal they’re not. Cannabilism is rarely practiced nowadays. But in a not too distant past, remote tribes in Papua New Guinea and Brazil recycled ancestors’ bodies by consuming them after death. Eating the dead ensured no one went hungry. Families prepared the feast by combining the corpse with herbs and other edibles, staving off starvation in the depths of their jungle kingdoms.

6. Avert Your Eyes, Harry Potter Fans

“I dare not, Headmaster! If I join the table, we shall be thirteen! Nothing could be more unlucky! Never forget that when thirteen dine together, the first to rise will be the first to die!” — Sybill Trelawney, Professor of Divination, Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardy.

That explains Sirius’ death in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Sirius was the first to rise from a dinner table set for 13. The number 13 was considered unlucky in 19th century Victorian culture and is tainted to this day. 

Carrying the dead out of the house feet first was standard. Victorians believed the deceased’s spirit would get lost and be unable to find its way home to “ghost” relatives if they left without looking back. Mirrors were hidden behind black crepe so corpses’ souls didn’t get trapped inside. Turning family photos face down prevented relatives from being possessed as the dead departed. 

Worried about ghosts? Just wail at the burial ceremony. That’ll scare them off.

Making Your Own Plans

Forgetting to plan your own funeral can leave your family in the dark. Even a modest funeral or cremation can cost thousands. Tell your family or heirs what you’d like to see as your final memorial. Oh and don’t neglect to set some money aside so you can go out in the style to which you’re accustomed.

Get Your Ontario Will in Order

Axess Law Ontario wills and estates lawyers can draft a personal will to include your final burial wishes. Make a virtual, online video appointment anywhere in Ontario by dialing 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form. Convenient day or evening appointments are available 7 days a week. Licensed lawyers can meet with you in person at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s wills and estate services.

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