In Western Cultures, the church teachings influenced the way people died and offered them hope for their afterlife. People believed that we will all die. Towards the end of the twentieth century however, death became a ver private event. People denied death.
The people of the Medieval Period would put graveyards on the outside of towns except for those people of special honor were buried within the precincts of the town. These people were concerned about the welfare of the dead soul. As time passed, the dead became associated with the church, and everyone would be able to be buried there. Charnel houses were later formed. This was like a gallery of the dead where their bones would be laying and viewed by people. Graves were often opened to give those bones up to the church for safe keeping until the time of Resurrection. Around the twelfth century, monuments were soon shown in order to preserve the identity of the deceased. By the time of the Renaissance, customs for memorializing the dead became very important. Burials began to take place in cemeteries away from churches.
The Dance of Death came about in the later part of the thirteenth and early part of the fourteenth century. It was basically influenced by the plague that killed thousands. The dance was expressed as a story through drama, music or even poetry. The meaning was that death comes to all people, no matter how high up you are in rank. Mexicans still celebrate this dance today at a festival called The Day of the Dead.
Native Americans view death as a natural process. The Cree people say good-bye s before they go anywhere just in case something unexpected could happen. Some people compose death songs that tell about there near death experience or about their life if the near dead is writing one. I found the Cherokee s belief s very interesting. They believe in four souls and four stages of death, the last soul dying after one year. The Cherokee say they should take care of the burial place for up to one year while the soul is still alive. Anytime after that, it can be neglected. Native American s consider the dead to be guardian spirits and the burial place is considered sacred. The Cocopa believe in burying the dead with possessions. They also put in food and clothing thinking that they will use this in their afterlife. At the burial, family members hold something similar to a s ance. They summon spirits of ancestors that supposedly go into another body to talk to them. On the other hand, the Hopi people want the ceremonies done and over with. These people basically want to forget it all.
The Nandi in Kenya from the African people believe in a life stage that a male goes through up until death. It seems as though they look at the person as being reincarnated after death. Music is often played at African funerals as to give a finality of death. Those in morning often give the dead a message to take onto the next world. Another interesting fact that I came across was the LoDagaa people carry on funerals to at least a six-month period and they sometimes continue on for years. This is because they too, similar to the Cherokee people, believe in four stages of death.
The Aztec s of the Mexican culture would perform sacrifices. Death is described as awakening from a dreamlike existence and seen as an equalizer. The Aztec s believe people die in an order of the way the have lived their lives. The Day of the Dead as I stated before is an occasion for communion for those living and dead. Food is served and it is like one big party. Families set an extra place at the dinner table for each dead child. At dawn, they decorate the grave cite with flowers and ribbons. People bring food and sit around the grave and eat with the dead. This goes on all night.
Asians have a great deal of respect for their ancestors. Chinese people formed the yin-yang, which as described as a whole is made up of the living and the dead. Chinese funerals are similar to the LoDagaa in Africa having specific mourning attire highlighting the degree of kinship. Like Mexicans, the Chinese also have a special festival celebrating their ancestors. The Japanese also have a day of celebration based on Buddhist concepts. Most funerals in Japan are usually Buddhist ceremonies. Families invite the Buddhist priests into their homes after the ceremony to pray for their loved one. The deceased is also given a Buddhist name, which is inscribed on a tablet and placed, in the families home. People believe that the spirit lingers within their home for forty-nine days so their soul is prepared for enshrinement. Seven weekly ceremonies are help within these forty-nine days. Memorial ceremonies are held on the one-hundredth day after death and on the first and third anniversary. They are on fixed intervals from there on going up to the fiftieth anniversary. Shrines are also put up in the home in honor of the dead. Chinese customs are similar to the Japanese customs.
Most customs and practices held for the dead has a lot to do with religion or tradition. Our culture as well as all others have learned to deal with death in different ways and we all go about it differently. Ancestors pass down their rituals to each generation and that is how each of us learns the practices to preserve the dead and keep their memory alive.