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Unique Burial Practices of Different Cultures

Unique Burial Practices of Different Cultures

By Jennifer Dodd

As a relatively new Stone Orchard employee, there are many aspects of the Death Care profession that I find are fascinating and enlightening as a new-comer. During a recent demonstration with a prospective client, the matter of being able to record the orientation of the internment site in Stone Orchard was mentioned. This struck me as odd, why would you need to know this; wouldn’t they all be the same?

As obvious as it now seems, it had not occurred to me that differing religions and customs would have unique burial practices, thus requiring funeral homes and cemeteries to accommodate and often advise families and friends on procedures. It also means that funeral homes and cemeteries have diverse software functionality needs.

Funeral and burial practices are deeply entrenched in culture and incredibly varied traditions reflect a wide spread of beliefs and values. Here is a look at just a few of practices observed by those in the profession.

The Buddhist Faith

In the Buddhist faith, it is believed that individuals pass through a series of reincarnations until they are liberated from worldly illusions and passions. Death is simply a way to reach the next reincarnation, with the ultimate goal of eventually reaching Nirvana. As such, a funeral is treated more like a celebration, as well as provides an opportunity for family and friends to assist the deceased as they travel on to their new existence. I spoke briefly with Glen Hodges, Manager at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver, and learned that in 2010 they installed ceremonial burners in the cemetery, to replace ones that had been in place since 1901.  The burners, designed with spiralling red clouds that symbolize the deceased’s transport to heaven, are used to burn offerings to ancestors. It is a 3,000 year old tradition, showing respect and remembrance for ancestors. Please click here for more information.

Japanese Culture

In Japanese culture, a large majority of families opt for cremation. In fact, Japan has one of the highest cremation rates in the world with the country reporting a cremation rate of 99.85% in 2008. At Mountain View Cemetery, they have also observed that it is common practice among the Japanese clients to request that the remains be interred directly under the marker.

Islamic Practices

Glen also shed some light on some of the Islamic practices observed during his time working in Saskatoon. In the Islamic faith the belief is that death is not the end of a person’s existence, only the life of this world. Mourners are to pray that the eternal life is a happy one. Traditionally, it is preferred that the deceased is buried as soon as possible following death, in most cases with no embalming taking place to further disturb the deceased. The men of the community are the only ones to attend the graveside burial, and most often perform the burial tasks themselves. The grave should be shallow, and the body placed on its side, with no casket. The head is orientated to face Mecca, the direction of prayer. In multi-denominational cemeteries, sections often are realigned to accommodate the facing of Mecca. As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking when it comes tocemetery mapping and having the right cemetery management software can make all the difference!

These are just some of the practices and customs observed, it is however important to note that customs do vary widely depending of beliefs, traditions and not to mention, local by-laws.

What are some of the burial customs and practices you have observed? Has your cemetery or funeral home observed a change in practices over the years?