Burial Urns and Different Cultures

Depending on the culture, burial urns can differ greatly. What might be the norm for one funeral tradition, could be completely different in another. In the West for example, the traditional colour to wear to funerals or when in mourning is black. In India and for those that are of Hindu faith, a casual white garb is worn instead.

In the West, funerals tend to be a solemn, one-day affair that is often very sad and dedicated to mourning the person that has passed. It usually takes place a week or so after the person has died and sees people gather together wearing black to remember and grieve. The ceremony ends with the person's body being buried in a coffin or casket, or it is cremated. The remains are then placed in either a burial urn if the ashes are to be buried, or a cremation urn.

Eastern Indonesia Funerals

When looking for a funeral tradition that is the opposite to how the West do it, Eastern Indonesia is a fine example. While they also have ceremonies and practices for honouring and memorializing the person that has passed, the way it is conducted and the message behind it is very different. In Tana Toraja (an area within the South Sulawesi Province of Indonesia and home to the Toroja ethnic group), their funerals go on for days or even weeks and are “raucous affairs involving the whole village.”

The funeral might also take place years after the person has passed, rather than a matter of days. This is because the family wants to save up for a more opulent funeral and this can take more time. Eastern Indonesian homes are called tongkonan which represents the life cycle and where someone was born is where they die, or where they are placed until they physically are laid to rest. Until the funeral happens, the deceased person is laid out in a specific room of the home where they are ritually cared for. This includes being bathed, taken on outings and fed. Death doesn't have the same finality as in the West and the person that has passed is referred to as being sick or asleep until the funeral has taken place. They very much remain a part of everyday life until this moment.

Rituals before the funeral

Before a funeral in Eastern Indonesia, the family will inform the community that a member of their family is passing over for the afterlife or into the Puya. This will be done via a series of rituals that the whole family participates in and are done in front of the entire village. A funeral is considered to be the most important social event of a person's life, preceding even a birth or wedding and therefore the family needs to agree on an appropriate funeral for them. Only once this has been done can it take place.

Within their culture, the water buffalo is an ultimate sacrificial animal and is said to carry the spirit into the afterlife. For those that can sacrifice a water buffalo it is considered a display of wealth and honours the one who passed and their family that are left behind. In the lead up to the funeral, other animals such as chickens and pigs are also sacrificed, further displaying their wealth.

“The Toraja people believe the spirit of the dead lives among us, the living, looking out for us, blessing us,” says Eric Crystal Allo, the head of the Torajan branch of AMAN (customary law community of Indonesia). It is clear that the Toraja people deeply respect their dead.

The Ma’nene Ritual

Once the funeral has taken place, the ma'nene ritual will take place. This is where the body is removed from its tomb and the family will visit it to pay homage to their ancestors. This takes place in August after the rice harvest and the family members will dress them up in new clothing and jewellery and put on their favourite face powder and perfume or cologne. In order to feel closer to their relatives, they might give them a lit cigarette to smoke or take them for a ride on the back of their scooter.

Western Cremation Urns

In the West, once a funeral has taken place, many people consider "How do I display the cremation urn?”, or “It is weird to display my unique urn in my home, or bedroom?”. By learning about the beautiful relationship that the Toraja people have with their family members that have passed and their ease with their dead, should help to ease any worries. The best way to grieve is the one that makes you feel the most comfortable, hopefully this article should help you to display your loved ones cremation urn in the best way for you.

Speak to one of the team today for advice and guidance on our Eco Burial Urns.