Text: AS-“It is a weird burial ritual. Well, weird for other villages near my town, because no one except our village does this.”
Interviewer-“Has your always been doing it or did something happen in the village for everyone to shift from the ‘traditional’ burial rituals?”
AS- “I don’t know. It has always been like that. Maybe it was because my village mostly houses farmers and their land, and the rituals just symbolize their connection to their land. Anyways, coming back to the ritual. It is not something extremely groundbreaking but, in our village, instead of cremating out dead near a river and throwing their ashes into the water, our dead are cremated on familial ground and buried right there.”
Context: AS is a middle-aged woman born in a small village in eastern parts of India. She spent most of her childhood in the village that she talks about, but moved out to attend school in a different city. Her father was buried following the same burial ritual that she describes in the above text.
Analysis: In the above burial ritual, we see the impact of local sentiments into a more widespread cultural practice. By shifting from the widespread tradition of cremating beside a river, the village tradition of burying the dead on familial grounds integrates a smaller community’s culture with that of a bigger one. It is an example where we can see social norms and meanings (here, a farmer’s connection to their land) integrating with religious customs.
My informant is Pakistani and has lived in many countries worldwide, yet has deep knowledge of his culture and is very associated with certain events and occasions that occur in Pakistan.
This prayer, typically known as “Namaz E Janaza” is a common type of prayer “performed at funerals”. It is a ritual that has “existed in Islam for a very long time” and is “very important to our religion and culture.” The ritual is illustrated by a “group of people that are praying as the body is put in front of them” He states that it is because “everyone is praying towards god when the body is also there” conveying the influences of religion on their life. The informant also states that it is “the same Islamic prayer from the Qur’an that people read.” It is a widely known tradition in South Asia, specifically Pakistani culture when it comes to funeral rituals and events that must take place in order to properly bury a body.
The ritual is “always performed by men in a room separate to the women,” and the informant continues to assert that “they cannot be together and a woman cannot speak the prayer to the body” highlighting the strict nature of this ritual and the specific cultural customs on death and funerals. It is usually done in Pakistan but also occurs in other Muslim countries that still honour this method of performing the funeral ritual. It is a very important aspect of how the body is sent to heaven and is a pivotal step in “family healing using religion and ensuring they continue in heaven”
The religious aspect of funerals is very common in many cultures, however, in Islamic culture, the split of the men and women into separate rooms signifies the power that the prayer holds as it is part of their tradition. Death and prayer being portrayed in a ritual allow families to use the religious scripture provided to them as a mode of grieving their loved ones in a structural manner, making it easier on the family that is closer to them. Although, the formality of the occasion eliminates personalisation of the funeral and family members when burying and honouring the dead as they must follow the known written words instead of making them uniquely theirs, which is seen in other cultures. However, it is a religious and important part of their cultural identity, therefore, the prayer does not solely mark the death of an individual but paves a path to their god that they are praying to, following the practices of their culture and tradition as it is passed down.
The informant is a family member of mine that has lived in Lebanon for the entirety of her life and has grown up learning the significance of certain rituals and traditions with the world around her.
The informant describes this medicine as a plant that is seen very traditionally “in many Arabic or Lebanese homes”. Although the plant has an original term and transliteration, it does not have a direct translation to the English language and is “similar to the leaves grown on herbal plants”. The plant is used to heal most wounds that include “deep cuts, scrapes and other physical injuries that required care” and is done by cutting up the leaves and making it into a “paste-like texture” and rubbing it into the wound. She states that it must be wrapped on the wound and left with no other ointments or medications as it is said to “clear the wound of any bacteria and also help it heal with the nutrient provided. The elder of the family, “usually my grandmother” my informant states will usually rub the plant into the wound and say a religious prayer to accompany the physical healing for general health and prosperity.
Although it is believed to have physical healing properties similar to aloe vera, it also holds religious significance as the plant was believed to have been the “Arabic blessing from god onto [their] gardens.” This is due to the plant not being seen anywhere besides the Levantine region and is seen as a gift that is only presented to them with its supposed healing powers physically and religiously. It is seen in most elders’ gardens as it was believed to have been the most “beneficial plant for bodily treatment”. The religious prayer was usually from the Islamic book, the Qur’an and would denote speeches from there to “help the kids who get hurt from their everyday activities”. The informant states that “it was important for me to do the same for my children and grandchildren because I still believe in this plant’s medicine and how god will listen to us” conveying its importance on her family and bloodline.
The plant is seen as more than a healing alternative to modern-day medicine as it seems to be still used to present the significance of culture on the healing and growth of children who get hurt and are treated with this plant. Religiously, the implications of the medicine being a gift from god allows the elders of the family to be seen as authority figures performing the acts of god on the children, healing and removing their worries from a situation through the use of plants grown in their garden. This blessing of the medicine in Lebanese culture plays a larger role as my informant still believes that it is the most suitable for most cases of harm, presenting it as a sort of ritual. It signifies the transferring of culture from one generation to another as she still uses it today on her grandchildren whilst teaching them the benefits. The life cycle of a plant may also be used to depict the human life cycle as it is also religiously associated and presents connotations of healing, allowing younger generations to feel connected to this certain folk medicine for the rest of their lives and offering them protection.
The informant is one of my Pakistani friends who has lived in many different countries, yet is very attached to the culture of his heritage and is very involved in the rituals, ceremonies and overall traditions that are tied to his roots in Pakistan.
The informant describes this dance, the Luddi, as a “circular formation that people dance to”. This dance entails the “clapping of their hands and spinning in circles as they are still moving in a circle.” Although the dance is not usually performed for a certain scenario or moment, it is “usually done at celebrations and ceremonies like weddings and dinners with the family” who are brought together and dance to specific songs that link to the informant’s culture. He describes his times watching the Luddi as a “coming together when [they] have not seen each other in a long time” and celebrating the family or a certain event happening at the time. It is always performed in Pakistan when the entire family joins, his family always visits to “celebrate their cousins, aunts, uncles and all the elders that have given us the privilege we have” conveying the importance of the dance in Punjabi culture.
The Luddi is typically done with “the group of women in the family that are important to the celebration or occasions” and this can range from “family of the groom or bride in a wedding or the parents and siblings of the birthday person.” The joining together of the women in a circle gives them a chance to “celebrate in a space without the men involved”. Although it is usually performed by older women in the family, younger women around the age of the bride and/or person of significance are able to join the dance and “learn the significance of what it means to become an adult woman” in the family that has their culture embedded into their daily lives. Luddi is msot typically seen in the winter and spring when all the family members come back from their travels for the wedding season, therefore, it allows the women to not only celebrate the occasion but also the family and other women.
The formation of a circle as part of the dance highlights the cycle of their culture and the generations that come together to form a chain that connects. It is creating a personal connection between the women of the family in that certain moment, growing as the girls grow and join the dance to celebrate each other. The clapping of their hands emphasises the celebration of the occasion and also creates a unified sound that the woman can sing and dance to, establishing their heritage and Punjabi culture in the form of performance and expression of their joy into feelings. The incorporation of this dance at weddings, which is also presented to be an important and momentous part of the culture in South Asia, highlights how the family is the base of their culture and even the women have their own traditions and rituals that create unity. Furthermore, the circle growing highlights the chain of Punjabi women in the family growing and the representation of the elders teaching the younger traditions to keep the culture alive.
The informant talks about how important the Dia de los Muertos celebration was for his family. Normally celebrated from November 1st to 2nd but there are sometimes extra days based on location in Mexico the person is from. Dia de los Muertos celebrates the dead by preparing a feast and all their favorite toys, meals, and so much more. This preparation thus invites the souls of the dead to be with their family. The first day would celebrate any children that the family had lost, and so candy, juices, and toys would be put out on the altar. The second day would be to celebrate the elderly, so they put out conchas, food, beer, a basket of fruits, and other things they might have been known to love.The third day would be to celebrate anyone in between who had died, where family and friends would add anything left to add, decorate the tables, with colors like orange, red, green, yellow, pink and so much more. The informants also stated that they would include edible sugar skulls as decorations and a pastry called Pan de Muerto. This is a big bulbous loaf of bread, shaped with knots with the round ball at the top and a cross intersecting that. Marigolds were bright orange, meant to guide the souls of the dead back to their homes that scattered the altar.
The informant emphasized that the reason the holiday celebration was so important is because everyone within the family would head over to help decorate, or just be there as a family and talk. They would all remember the deceased and talk about the memories they shared of them that would help to bring them closer together. When the celebrations were over, everyone would be able to dig in and eat the food. The informant added that they never put pictures despite the big depiction and representation of having pictures on the altars because of poverty in Mexico and lack of cameras in Mexico. Thus the memory of their dead loved ones would live on in their memory.
It seems to me that the importance of family is crucial to this holiday celebration as it commemorates any family member dead or alive. It takes a different take on the dead of ghostly stories and instead expects the souls of their dead ones among them, with only love and remembrance felt at the celebration. A small part of this is similar to the concept of contact magic as they use food and toys that they used to love in their life, but it is not directly in contact with them. Additionally, symbolism such as the pan de muerto where the ball or knot at the top is meant to represent the skull and the cross is meant to represent the bones from their bodies. The holiday is very cyclical and falls at the same time of the year to have a dedicated time to commemorate any loved ones that have been lost.