Top 10 Unusual Death Rituals


As if death was not morbid enough, many people have taken last rites to a whole new level of dreadfulness. In some cultures disposing of the corpse might mean anything from eating it up to dancing with it. Those of you who think burial and cremation are the only death rituals; please prepare yourself before you read what follows below:

10. Funeral With Strippers

Being dead can be such a bore, unless there are professional strippers in the funeral. In China’s Donghai region, funerals are actually status symbols. A dead man’s reputation and honor is considered to be directly proportional to the number of people who attend his funeral. So, the relatives hire strippers to pull the crowds. The Chinese authorities have started cracking down on the practice after incessant media glare.

9. Dancing With The Dead

Believe it or not, the Malagasy of Madagascar take out the dead from the graves and jive with them. The belief behind this ritual called Famadihana is that the spirit of the deceased joins the ancestors after the body has decomposed. The celebration is often held once every seven years and is a time of joyous family reunions.

8. Sky Burial

Tibet’s harsh climate and stony ground makes burial a near-impossible task. So, Buddhists in Tibet often go for a sky burial where the body is chopped, mixed with flour and left to be eaten up by scavenging bird. They believe that the body is just a vessel for the soul and should go back to nature.

7. Tana Toraja Funeral

Funerals in the Tana Toraja region of Indonesia are big affairs. The burial ceremony is accompanied by music, dance and a feast for a number of guests. Understandably, death here is an extravagant occasion with a huge price tag.  So, the relatives of the deceased are given a reprieve. They need not bury the body within a couple of days. They can just wrap it up and keep it in their home while they save for the wake. The saving can take weeks, months or even years. Until then, the corpse is treated as a sick man and included in the daily routines and conversations. An actual burial takes place when the family is prepared for it and the coffin is placed in a grave, cave or hung on a cliff.

6. Dazzling Death

People can now wear their loved ones on their fingers. Where else can you wear a diamond ring? An American company called LifeGem now offers people a chance to turn their dead loved ones into synthetic diamonds. The process starts by capturing carbon from the body or cremated remains of the deceased. It is then turned into graphite before putting it into a diamond press to obtain the shiny crystal. The price ranges from $3500 to $20,000 depending on the carat size.

5. Fantasy Coffins

If Elvis died in Teshi (Ghana), he would have been buried in a guitar coffin. Residents of this Accran suburb bury their dead in fantasy coffins. The casket often represents the profession of the deceased. Giant replicas of coke bottles, fruits or gadgets are displayed in coffin showrooms.

4. Endocannibalism

This might be the worst death ritual ever. Endocannibalism is a practice where people eat their own dead. The idea behind the horrid custom could be anything; from imbibing the deceased’s traits to assimilation of the spirit. A few tribes in South America and Australia are said to have practiced this creepy ritual. But many academics feel that endocannibalism is a false accusation thrown at tribes by early colonists to gain an excuse for political domination. According to anthropologist Napolean Changon, the Yanomamo community in South America still eats the ash and ground bones of the deceased after cremation.

3. Self-Mummification

This makes fasting to death sound like a joke. Some Buddhist monks called Sokushinbutsu in Japan not only committed suicide; they also did it in a way that led to their mummification. The process was started with a diet of nuts and fruits combined with hardcore physical activities. Elimination of body fat was achieved with the first step. The second step involved bouts of vomiting, loss of body fluids and poisoning of the body to deter a maggot attack: accomplished by consuming barks, root and a poisonous tea for a thousand days.

In the last stage, the monk would enter a stone tomb, sit in a lotus position and wait for death. He would sound a bell daily to let his fellow monks know he was alive. And then when the “no-bell” day came, the monks would seal the tomb, wait for another 1000 days before opening it to verify the mummification.

2. Fasting To Death

Vimla Devi, an Indian woman fighting cancer, died in 2006. The cause of death was not cancer but a 13-day fast called santhara. This voluntary death by fasting is practiced by the Jains, a community that believes in non-violence towards all creatures.  Santhara is usually initiated after the person decides that life has served its purpose and is ready for spiritual purification. There is growing opposition to the ritual, which is often seen as a form of suicide or euthanasia. But within the community, preventing santhara can invite ostracism.

1. Exposure

Zoroastrians believe that after death the body becomes a host for corruption and defilement. Cremation or burial are ruled out because they might end up polluting sacred elements like fire and earth. So, they go for a ritual called exposure of the dead. The deceased’s body is taken up to a raised structure called the Tower of Silence and left there to be devoured by vultures. The practice is now only followed in the Indian subcontinent. Dwindling vulture population in India has made the process more gruesome. Some recent photos, showing a growing heap of rotting cadavers atop the Tower in Mumbai (India), have stirred a controversy within the community.

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  1. In Toraja, the ritual can cost for about $100,000.00; thats one of the reasons why it needs years to do the ritual. it also be one of ‘tourism object’ just like Ngaben in Bali.

  2. Anthropology enthusiast on

    I would strongly suggest you remove the editorial comments like “worst death ritual” and “horrid custom”.
    The cultures and beliefs of another society are no less reasonable and normal than that of Western society, it’s just different. To cultures that practice ingesting the dead there is a deep spiritual, religious, and cultural reason behind it and it is far more normal to them than the idea of burying the dead. In fact, the concept of burying dead loved ones in the ground would be horrifying, repulsive, and sacrilegious to them, perhaps just as much as their practice is to you.

    On the whole I appreciate the list of customs and found them interesting…but not horrifying. Try to take the ethnocentrism out of the descriptions and you’ll have a much more educational and intelligent sounding post here.

  3. A young person on

    These are all strange, some being horrible, interesting rituals. Especially the mumification of the
    Buddhist monks, the ash-to-synthetic-diamond-ring and the tower.

  4. #7, it's the main reason people of Tana Toraja move to other cities, a fine example of culture vs economy

  5. Number 6 is pretty interesting – I wonder if they do pets as well… I'd consider doing that with our dog's ashes if I was rich (right now they are in an urn…)

      • Moreover, partying is not necessary meant to take in a happy sense. It just means to be part of any thing. I understand what you, Jennifer, mean by saying partying.