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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.
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.
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.