One of the things that separate two individuals from different societies from each other is their culture. The culture of an individual and a society is composed of the traditions, beliefs and practices of the society regarding life. Many of their practices and traditions are attached to rituals which dictate on how a particular event should be conducted and have become incorporated as a part of everyday life that it has become second nature to the members of the society that follow such a ritual.
One such ritual is what is termed as ritual mourning which is associated with death. This paper will present an overview of the similarities of ritual mourning among Asian societies as well as the reason why societies view mourning as a ritual and parts of the mourning ritual. Importance of Ritual Mourning to Society Groups use rituals in order to both create and preserve collective identities. The separation of sacred practices from customary activities has long been considered a key property of the ritual being practiced.
Groups pronounce their customary practices through ritual occasions when they intend to celebrate practices already associated with what they have considered to be sacred. Also, these rituals are able to give members of the society a revitalization of sharing their sentiments and beliefs through what sociologists call “identity affirmation. ” Identity affirmation occurs when the practices of a group of individuals are celebrated in a customary fashion (Etizioni 2000; Hermanowicz & Morgan 1999).
Furthermore, religious behavior seen in ritual mourning involves an acceptance of the supernatural claims of the deceased. In other words, the religious behavior of individuals belonging to a particular society where they believe that ritual mourning is based on a set of supernatural claims, accompanied by other actions which have been accepted by such society. Without the shared understanding of the concepts and symbols associated with the rituals and the supernatural, the rituals would not be accepted and not performed (Wadley 1999).
Ritual Mourning in Asia Among Asians, funerals are considered as a major passage in life which surpasses weddings in terms of priority, expense and significance. This is because majority of Asian cultures consider ancestor worship as a cornerstone of their cultural belief, social structure and religious practices. They believe that through the phenomenon of death, the deceased is considered as a beneficent ancestor and the ritual of the funeral would complete the transition from being a member of the family to becoming an ancestor who will be worshipped.
Many tribes believe that their ancestors are able to influence the lives of their descendants. As such, it is the goal of the descendants to find ways so that their ancestors may look kindly on them and not harm them through the practice of various rituals in mourning and burial as well as worship. This protection does not end with the immediate family of the deceased. Rather, it extends down through generations. Furthermore, ritual mourning exemplified in funerals gives the family of the deceased the opportunity to display their duty, devotion and respect to the deceased (Crowder 2000; Wadley 1999).
There are a lot of similarities in ritual mourning practiced by societies and cultures all over the world. The mourning ritual would include the preparation of the body of the deceased for burial while the family, relatives and other members of the society enter a period of mourning. The deceased is then transferred to its final resting place with the members of society escorting the deceased in the form of a procession. After the dead person is buried, the members of society leave and continue mourning for the dead for a certain period of time (Brook 1989; Concepcion 1962).
What makes ritual mourning around the world different is the manner on how the mourning is done by the members of society, particularly on how the members of the family and members of the society conduct themselves during the procession and mourning period. Some cultures would include violent outbursts while other cultures would include a feast and lively music during the procession. In the Philippines, the ritual mourning begins with the preparations for the funeral which should occur within 24 hours from the time of death.
This includes the washing and dressing of the body of the deceased. This is then followed by a vigil which is attended by relatives, neighbors and friends. The funeral rites itself includes the removal of the coffin from the home to the church, the blessing of the body of the deceased in the church, procession of the body from the church to the cemetery, the last opening the coffin and final blessing of the body, and placing the closed coffin in the grave or niche.
This is then followed by a nine-day period of mourning which includes special prayers for the deceased (Concepcion 1962). Majority of the ritual mourning that occurs in the Philippines include emotional outbursts. These outbursts are usually done during the procession when the body of the deceased is moved from the house to the church and then from the church to the cemetery. This is usually started through the wife or mother of the deceased lets out a piercing wail. This sets off similar reactions among other relatives.
This is then followed by a complaint that is uttered in a loud and rhythmic fashion. The complaints uttered are usually questioning the dead on why he or she deserted them. The wailing subsides during the blessing of the body of the deceased and prayer rites. As the coffin is placed into the grave or niche, the female kinsmen of the deceased would resume their emotional outburst with some throwing themselves at the coffin with frenzied crying and screaming, causing most of them to be restrained by others.
As such, ritual mourning in the Philippines those who witness a funeral are usually divided into two subgroups: the mourners and the spectators with the mourners being further subdivided into either the calm mourners or the extremely emotional mourners who lash their anguish in an almost seemingly violent manner with the latter usually composed of the closest members of the family of the deceased (Brook 1989; Concepcion 1962). Unlike mourning in the Philippines, mourning in China is more spectacular.
Buddhist monks chanted sutras over the body of the deceased, conduct requiem masses, parade before the coffin as it was brought to the grave, and held posthumous services for the soul of the departed including the holding of a feast in honor of the dead (Brook 1989). The rituals to be followed are more precise since they had created manuals on the proper rites and procedures for various rituals held by society, including ritual mourning and funeral (Brook 1989; Shang 1998).
After the body of the deceased is washed and dressed, masses were usually held throughout the night of the first day after death, or for the first three nights and then again on the seventh. Then, the masses would be held every seventh day for a total of seven weeks with the funeral ceremony held on the forty-ninth day called the duanqi zhai. However, this mourning period may last for as long as one hundred days, depending on the financial standing of the family of the deceased (Brook 1989). During the funeral procession, the mourners are led on foot by the eldest son in a traditional Chinese mourning dress.
He carries an ancestral tablet on a tray along with incense, candles and three cups of tea. He carries in his arm an evergreen branch in order to symbolize the continuance of the family lineage and a bamboo staff symbolizing the walking cane used by someone who is exhausted with grief. The mourners are accompanied by Buddhist monks in their traditional outfits playing gongs and cymbals. At the end of the procession is an assistant with a live chicken tied with a string (Crowder 2000). Conclusion
Ritual mourning has become a crucial part of Asian cultures because it allows them to demonstrate their sense of duty, respect and honor to their deceased for one last time. They view a funeral as the transition of an individual from being a member of the family into an ancestor who is worship and believed to look after the family for as long as the ritual mourning is correctly followed. If not, they would be able to curse the family and the generations to come. This being the case, Asian cultures give more importance to funeral and ritual mourning than any other rituals such as weddings.
Asian cultures have different practices in their ritual mourning. However, despite the differences, these ritual mourning activities have similarities such as the observance of a period of mourning and the escorting of the body by the mourners to its final resting place. All these practices are to ensure that not only that they are able to fulfill their duties as far as the ritual mandates, but also to assure them that their family and the future generations will be protected and blessed by the beloved deceased.