Berawan Secondary Burials And Why They Think American Burials Are Bizarre

11/02/2010 07:51:00 PM ·

Berawan secondary burials involves a sort of storage, if you will, of the remnants of the deceased above ground in a longhouse or upon a platform in the cemetery. The family of the dead will store the corpse in a valuable glazed jar or the coffin left over from the first stage. The entire process usually “lasts at least eight months and sometimes for several years if the close kin cannot immediately afford to complete the expensive final stages.”

In actuality, the process seems off to westerners, however it seems to me, this funerary practice allows for a deeper connection to the deceased. The family watches as the dead, rot in a sense, and so the act of decay may represent the fact that nature has taken over the body which is only a vessel in the first place. Hertz hypothesized that “peoples who practice secondary burial have certain beliefs about the afterlife, namely, that the fate of the body provides a model for the fate of the soul.” A good death in essence.

On the contrary, the Berawan are quite shocked at American mortuary practices, especially when it comes to the practice of embalming the dead with fluid for preservation purposes. Embalming is a completely unnatural act, and as the Berawan leave their ritual up to nature, they detest the fact Americans try to control it. By slowing the process of natural decay, Americans are freezing the dead in a state of the unknown.

Furthermore, Americans keep the dead in a morgue like setting, together. At any given time, the mortician may be putting makeup on one corpse or doing the hair of another. To be honest, it sounds sick when you think about it! This process is more so for the people that have to look at the dead during a funeral viewing, not for the person innocently lying in the wooden box, who’s probably thinking (ok, not in the truest sense of being alive kind of way *smile*)…..I'm going in the ground, who cares what I’m wearing or what shade of lipstick I have on”!

Photo sources

(Credit: Image courtesy of University of Zurich)

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