Death is something that everybody has in common. We are all born, we all live and we all die. However, the customs, beliefs and traditions surrounding death can differ greatly between different groups of people, different parts of the world or different stages throughout history.



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by Katherine Bilsborough



There is evidence to suggest that even as far back as prehistoric times, Neanderthal man buried their dead with flowers. This suggests a certain emotional concern for the well being of the dead and might indicate a belief in an afterlife of some kind. Another piece of evidence that backs up this theory is the fact that Neanderthals also buried their dead in a curled position facing the sunrise. They probably believed that the dead would eventually wake up into a new life.

Irish Catholics

In Ireland, Catholics hold a “wake” for the dead. The “wake house” is usually the house where the deceased lived and died. The body is laid out in a room of the house in an open coffin. Friends and family gather in a separate room to pay their respects. There is usually an atmosphere of celebration with food, drink and music. Everybody talks about the dead person and shares their fond memories. When it is time to carry the coffin to the graveyard, a longer route is normally chosen. If anybody comes across the funeral procession it is quite common to join in. After the funeral the men usually go to the pub while the women return home.

Aborigine Tribes

Aborigines do not recognise any form of natural death and as a consequence they treat all deaths as a type of murder. When a person dies, the rest of the tribe show their pain and mourning by wailing. This is also a way of showing their innocence regarding the murder. The dead body is covered with red earth and painted with yellow and white tribal markings. The earth represents the blood of birth, indicating a belief in the afterlife. The markings transform the dead body into a sacred being.


Muslims believe that their lives on earth are only a transition before entering a more important afterlife. Islamic graveyards are often situated just outside the walls of a city because of a superstitious fear of the dead. The “Shahada” is a prayer that is offered. It is similar to the “Last Rites” of Catholics and other Christian religions. Muslims bury their dead in white shrouds with their eyes closed and it is normal to hold the burial service on the same day as the person dies. The body is always buried facing Mecca.

Dakota Indian Tribe

The Dakota Indians bury their dead with much wailing and mourning. It is common for women to cut their arms and legs until they bleed. Meanwhile the men blacken their face with ash. The deceased is dressed in fine clothes and the face is painted red to symbolise life. The Dakota Indians believe that their dead will be reborn into a better life. When the deceased has been dressed and painted, he is taken to a platform which has been specially prepared for the occasion. The body is placed on the platform with all of his favourite things in life so that he does not have to come back for anything that he has forgotten.





Hello, everyone! I have a question. Is it correct to use 'face' in the singular form in the following sentence 'Meanwhile the men blacken their face with ash.' ? Thanks in advance!

Hello anton81,

You are talking about more than one man here and so there is more than one face involved and you should use the plural 'faces'.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Great picture of Ireland - fifty years ago. Time to update the stereotype.

It's nice to learn about other group of people's custom in death.

It's interesting to know about some of the different customs and beliefs towards death between different groups of people in different parts of the world.
I would like to comment on the belief of building Islamic graveyards outside the walls of a city. I believe the reason of this is not as mentioned in the article, "superstitious fear of the dead", which is not an Islamic belief. There could be some groups of Muslims who believe in this, but this is not related to the beliefs of the Islamic religion. As Muslims we are recommended not to walk over graves; this is to show respect for the dead. Many of the graveyards are surrounded by walls in and outside cities to avert people and animals walking over graves. The prophet Muhammad and two of his companions were buried in the prophet's house which was located in the heart of the city he lived in. His wife, Aisha, continued to live in that house for decades after his death without having "a superstitious fear" of the dead bodies in her house.


The effort of Mrs. Katherine Bilsborough regarding the funeral customs prevailed among various groups and religions, is really appreciable.

However I did not get clear concept from the article that whether its main theme is to describe the beliefs which different groups and religions have towards the phenomenon of death or it is about the funeral rituals which they offer.

Hello obaid87,

An interesting question. I think I would say that the text deals with both topics. The beliefs of groups are expressed through the rites which they have, so I think it's hard to separate the two and discuss one without the other.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

One time I read in a famous book " Death is better than Life " and the writer explained this idea trough
all the sorrows that we encounter in our lives. I agree whit him, but the life's sorrow is necessary for shine beautiful things. So we must die but DON'T FORGET TO LIVE!!!

Hello Nguyen

About your questions, there are many colours the earth (red, black, Green and more) and are used like naturals pigment . The Dakota or Sioux native American people painted the face the deceased with red colour. They believed that red was the “colour of life”. They believed that animals, plants and humans all came from one source: Mother Earth They also believed that although each creature, including humans, had its own spirit, or "wakan," this spirit came from one universal source: the Great Spirit, or Wakan Tanka. normally they use choke cherries because they represent the bittersweet nature of life. They are the blood of life, the blood that ties us together and unifies the world family.
The Siux have a sacred visión with nature.

Regards from México

excuse me, i see " the dead body is covered with red earth" and" the red earth represents the blood of birth"
So, what does the " earth" mean? and what " blood of birth" is? ^^