The world is full of truly wacky ways to send people into the afterlife. The Egyptians were known to pull a dead man’s brain out through his nose, the Aztecs cremated “bad people” alongside stray dogs and the ancient Chinese hung coffins off cliffs. OTP went six feet under to dig up the weirdest, craziest and most unusual funeral practices around the world.
Modern Zoroastrians take the prize for the blood-chunkiest death-disposal method. Because corpses are considered potential pollutants (logical), dead bodies are placed atop towers as vulture-bait. The belief is that the vultures will strip the body of its flesh before the corpse demon can rush in. The roof of the tower is divided into three concentric circles—the outer ring is for men, the second is for women and dead children are placed in the innermost circle. The bones are bleached by the sun and wind for a year, and then dumped into an ossuary pit in the center of the tower. The morbid bone pile eventually disintegrates and washes out to sea. Iran shut the practice down, but the Parsis in India are still all about it because they think exposure in death is the person’s final act of charity. Vultures can clean a corpse faster than you can rip through a midnight munchies bag of Doritos, but lately diclofenac poisoning has caused a decline in the vulture population. This poses serious problems ‘cause the people feast is just too big for the surviving birds.
Digging up corpses is usually a big no-no in Western culture. Not so for the Malagasy people in Madagascar. Every seven years, they exhume and dance with gramps around his tomb. Known as Famadihana (“Turning of the Bones”), they first dig up entire family crypts, wrap the remains in fresh cloth then grab a rotting partner and do-se-do to brass band tunes around the grave. Royal corpses are sprayed with perfume or splashed with sparkling wine before being trotted around. Expensive silk shrouds that covered the dead are given to childless newlyweds in the hopes it’ll rev up their fertility (because nothing sets the baby-making mood like some dead guy's fancy bathrobe).
It is a known fact that watching a slutty chick get naked cures the sadness associated with losing a loved one. This is the approach in China, where it's all about strippers come funeral time. That’s right, the practice of getting pole-dancin’, lingerie-dropping ladies-of-the-night to perform after funerals is so popular that despite the government crackdown, it still happens now and then. The Chinese believe that the more mourners there are, the higher the honor and well, strippers are an easy way to draw a crowd. Post-moretem stiffies all around.
This seemingly brutal method is also known as ritual dissection. Forget the Donners, in a Tibetan Sky Burial, the “body breaker” places the bits and pieces of the body he is hired to chop up on a mountaintop for the elements and animals to consume. You’d think the body breaker would be a bit jaded from the daily grind, but part of his job description is to chitchat and laugh while hacking apart the corpse. According to Buddhist philosophy, the body is merely a vessel. When people die, there’s no love lost on an empty shell, hence no need for preservation. As psycho-nightmarish as it may seem, this funeral practice is basically an efficient way of disposing of remains in an unforgiving countryside which lacks timber to burn the body and has ground that’s too rocky for burials.
For the Ga tribe in Ghana, the death of a loved one is a time to mourn as well as celebrate. The underground home of the deceased is made into a sup’d up nest. Highly skilled carpenters build coffins that symbolize aspects of the dead person's life—their occupation, a character trait or their standing in the society. These coffins get really creative, and are sometimes built in the form of fruit, fish, coke bottles, beer cans, cameras, bananas, cigarettes or even cell phones. So if a Ga carpenter gets buried in a hammer… what does a hooker meet her maker in?
Balinese people pull out all the stops to give their dead a spectacular send-off. Corpses in Bali get treated to a relaxing bath and are laid in a grave next to a food-filled shrine. The pampered body is eventually thrown into a mass grave until someone in charge decides there are enough corpses to hold a cremation. The bodies are then dug up, cleaned and piled on a float decorated with flowers. They’re paraded around the village before being burned at the town’s main square. Hindus believe fire is the vehicle to the next life and the cremation marks the beginning of an enormous feast to commemorate the dead.
Death is universal and people around the world have various interpretations of how to properly deal with what remains based on belief and often, circumstance. Sure hacking bodies up into pieces or throwing them to the vultures sounds insane, but so does putting ashes on your mantle. It's life that matters anyway; bring on the strippers.