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Anthropology

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Life is the most precious of things a human being posses, but though he posses it he does not “own” it. No one knows for sure when he or she will physically die. Death has been a social and spiritual phenomenon for ages with almost everyone trying to understand it. The problem is that, the explanation given varies from one culture to another and from one spiritual religion to another. However, what most people have come to agree on is that its understanding should be hinged on belief. This fact is mostly evident when considering how people conduct funerals; where funerals have come to be considered a send-off to the “other” world for the deceased person, after grieving and accepting the deceased’s fate, people attend funeral distressingly mostly hoping that it would give them the comfort that they honored him or her.

Although mostly based on belief, funeral arrangements and rituals vary widely from one culture or religion to another. Each culture has formed practices that coincide with their core beliefs. For the Sikh, their cultural beliefs do not allow them to cry out loudly over the deceased at the funeral. The Sikh view death as a transitional phase in the circle of life and hence do not see the importance of grieving publicly for one whose soul has simply just been “promoted”. This shows the significance they have placed on the life after death which is more evident than that of any other culture or religion. Apart from the exclusion of public grieve, the Sikh culture in many ways coincide with the Christian religion in which the view on death is “to die is gain” (King James Version Easy Reading, Philippians 1:21-23), the same scripture from their Holy book; the Bible, explains how one’s life should be, in a way, a sacrifice to God.

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These beliefs are reflected in their funeral practices where the whole ceremony is calm and organized, and whoever is discouraged or grieving is encouraged with the hope that the deceased is indeed in a better place where they all should look forward to. During the Christian and Sikh funeral ceremonies, the religious leaders, close relatives and friends deliver sermons and speeches and later lead the gathering at disposing the bodies. Whereas the Sikh prefer cremation the Christians prefer physical burial in the ground. The aspect of body disposal is also of interest as it bears greatly on beliefs. The Christians believe that God, their creator, created their bodies from the ground and hence their journey on earth should end by the bodies going back to the ground. This makes a lot of sense when considering the belief about life being a circle.

The other culture that has a very unique customs and funeral practices is the African culture. Africa, especially East Africa is believed by many scientists to be the cradle of life; where human existence actually started. This in a way may explain why most cultures in Africa have the same unique beliefs about life and death. Life is prized and death is revered. At funeral ceremonies are dramatic, people gather for days prior to the burial to start morning. Local brews are manufactured in large quantities, and feasts are organized to help those aggrieved ease their pain. On the burial day men collect the deceased body from its area of preservation and bring it to the burial site with loud traditional music being played all along. Women are mostly waiting at the burial site wailing loudly, stamping on the ground and uttering praise words for the deceased. Comforters are few and people are given ample space and time to pour out their grief.

Such practices show the disparities the African culture has with the Christian and Sikh cultural set-up. Whereas the two thank God for death, the African culture blames God for it. However, the African culture embrace grief openly and in many ways gets over it faster and move on with their lives without having to feel pulled back by the “loss” as they had time to exhaust their pain. As stated earlier on, since what a person believes in is what brings about the culture he practices, it is better to believe in that which gives hope for life and death will always be a phenomenon.

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