Tag Archives: Burial

FengShui: Where to Bury a Body

Chinese (Simplified): 风水
Chinese (Traditional): 風水
Romanization/Pingyin: fēngshuǐ
Literal Translation: wind water
Free Translation: “Chinese geomancy” (Wikipedia), essentially harmonizing with the natural world


Informant: My grandparents talk a lot of stuff. They also, they also told me a lot of my great father where bury, his location, how good it is, that kind of stuff. I- at that time I was quite young I don’t quite understand. He uh my grandparents basically looking everywhere to find a a a place to bury to bury my great great parent father. He he obviously he not expert, but he got somebody who claim to be expert. They found location in some mountain point in a certain direction, it’s just well, I mean, whatever you want to saying say it makes sense, they believe.

Informant: I mean, when people bury need to find a optimal location and direction. Well supposedly we find a good location and direction, we you you you can benefit your your offspring and all this stuff. That’s what they… claim. That’s fengshui.

Informant: That’s why I mean everything. House, location, direction inside the house furniture how to put it… is all fengshui.


Q: How did you learn about FengShui?

Informant: I mean, the thing is I, I didn’t get as much knowledge as I should because when I, when the high school already away from my parents grandparents. […] Yeah, but, even then they aren’t experts. They always found somebody pointing a certain thing to them.

Q: Did a lot of people believe in FengShui?

Informant: Well… more and more now. I think the, in China, when Cultural Revolution came, they kinda destroyed a lot of those believes. But like, people in HongKong, Taiwan, they believe a lot more than mainland China. But in mainland China now, they have more and more people believe. Especially uh in my side of the area, those people.

Q: As in like in the country side or in your province?

Informant: Well in the province, but well I think now more and more people believe. In the whole China. Because they they, I mean, this is traditional culture so. So even though Cultural Revolution interrupt for a period of time, they those things coming back. Yeah, they have all kind of stuff, but as I say I don’t do a lot of study for this kind of stuff. 

Q: Do you know when it originated? Like what Dynasty? 

Informant: I’m not quite sure, I, I obviously I mean, follow the tradition I don’t know when it started. I’m not quite sure.

Q: How did the Cultural Revolution affect FengShui?

Informant: Well cultural revolution, Chairman Mao basically want to break all of the traditions, right. This this fengshui is tradition, I mean they they go through all this Well basically Chairman Mao break everything that is tradition. basically want a brand new culture, everything brand new. So it last for 10 years, obviously affect uhhh some people. I mean when I came to U.S., I found out a lot Taiwanese family, HongKong family, a lot more tradition. I mean they you go to their house, or even I work for a restaurant they always have some food put aside to to try to what you call, to feed your ancestors that kind of stuff. But in my time, in China, Cultural Revolution those things stopped. So we haven’t practiced for until a little bit later on, when Chairman Mao died, Cultural Revolution end. So maybe another 10 years people slowly slowly bring back the practice.

Personal Thoughts:

China is incredibly, incredibly old. While people in England can trace back their family line centuries, people in China can trace back family lines even further. I think the meticulousness in choosing a burial place for passed family members is in part because of this massive traceable family history. In addition, Confucianism – one of the main philosophies in China that has existed for a long, long time – also places a heavy emphasis on family and the obligation of each member of a family. Confucianism also emphasizes the duty of young people to respect their elders, which is reflected by younger people finding a perfect place for their elders to rest. What I find particularly interesting about this though is the intersection between family dynamics and harmony with the natural world.

Additional Notes:

For a similar discussion of the oppression of culture under Communism and Post-Communist revival, read:
Valk, Ulo. 2006. Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore. Journal of Folklore Research 43: 31-51

Filipino Customs with Death

Main Piece: When you bury a person it is custom to put in their hands a broken rosary. It’s because Filipinos believe that cutting the rosary breaks the cycle of death in the family, so no one else in the family dies. I also heard that they do this so that the ghost of the deceased rests easy and doesn’t visit the family.  

Context: The informant lived the majority of her life in the Philippines. She then immigrated to the United States when she was 24. She learned about this tradition from her family.

Thoughts: I have never heard of this before but it seems to show superstition and fear of the dead in the Filipino Community. Religion is strong in the Filipino community and plays a big role in their beliefs. The emphasis on religion is shown by the rosary, which is a religious item in Christianity. The circular nature of the rosary also reflects the life cycle, which is why the informant believed that breaking the cycle would change the outcome. I find it interesting how religion affects common beliefs and values which is emphasized with this tradition.

Lizard Burial

My informant as a little boy would perform a ritual. The children of the village used to capture and kill a lizard. Then they would  perform a death ceremony. There was about 20 kids involved. They would bury the lizard and start praying.

“Ya hardon eska werka, mertak amya mabti’shd”, which translates to :

All you lizard, please portray good, because your wife is blind and cannot see at times.

They would have sticks and be beating it against the ground while saying the chant. Afterwards they would go home.There was nothing else to do so they created their own rituals.

My informant is an immigrant from Lebanon. He lived in a small town called Yaroun. Hid family was very poor and lived in a rural area. We shared the folklore over some food in his house.

The interesting part of this piece is the creativity children have. They created there own ritual in to keep from boredom. my informant at first did not want to tell this piece of folklore out of embarrassment but eventually gave in.

The Leper Tree

PP: There’s the Leper Tree in Malawi, we used to go there when I was younger. Well we went to the park it was in– I have to look it up, what it was called–

TK: Liwonde? I just googled it.

PP: That sounds right. It was this big tree with human skulls, skeletons in a kind of pit at the base of the roots, and we would have to look at them. If I remember right it was because one of the tribes that was living in the area had an outbreak of leprosy and they would put them in the tree, tie them up and make them stay there until they died.

TK: When was this?

PP: Honestly I think it was pretty recent, definitely in the last century. Maybe the 1930s? The worst part was they had a justification for doing it, they didn’t have the medicine or healthcare available to treat the disease and it was very contagious, so it was like this horrible quarantine where they said they were protecting the healthy people. It was for the sake of everyone else. But it was still a terrible thing to do.

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a woman who lives in America now, although she grew up in Africa and Ireland. While growing up in Africa with her family in the 1960s, because her father was a missionary doctor, they were often exposed to subpar living conditions, local legends and true stories like the one about the Leper Tree.

ANALYSIS: The Leper Tree is a very real place, not a legend, but has become part of the folklore of the country due to the gruesome nature of its existence. Visitors to the park who come for the wildlife and beautiful natural settings are often brought to the tree and asked to look down upon the skeletons of those who were trapped in it as recently as the 1950s. It is commemorated by a plaque on the trunk that says simply, “The Grave For People Who Suffered From Leprosy in the Past.” Burial and the proper disposal of bodies has always been a cultural hallmark– many cultures develop incredibly specific rituals around burial rites, which makes things like the Leper Tree stand out and be recalled even now for how barbaric and unrelated to traditional notions of respect for the dead it is.

Chinese Funerals (Taiwan)

This is a Chinese thing. After someone passes away, like Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, whoever, it’s like a very long two-week, three-week ordeal where there’s a ton of praying, there’s a funeral where you go to a funeral home and then you pray for hours. You have to do like a special thing where you like put your hands together and bow and nod your head, it’s very, just….culture. Culture.


Do you say things? Is it silent prayer?


Yeah you have to say like, I don’t know, my mom told me I forgot. Sorry. But okay so for the death thing, they’ll…I cant remember exactly but they take the body to like a temple where it gets burned…


Is this after the praying?


Yeah, there’s praying for like a week, not like a straight week, but like – get up, go pray, get up, go pray, get up, go pray. So yeah you pray for a week while everything’s being prepared, like all the ceremonies are being prepared. So then you go to the temple, and while the body’s actually burning in the furnace you keep praying, a ton of people are there, even the grandchildren. You keep praying while it’s burning, and then afterwards my mom told me that they took out the tray, or whatever he was on… There were still some bones left, because bones don’t burn unless they’re cracked, unless the heat from the fire cracks them open or something. So apparently my grandpa’s femur bone and like tibia or something was still left there, so the grandkids have to go and pick those up…and then I forgot what she said they did with them! Um, I’m pretty sure they burned them or somehow like, crushed them. So they eventually burn all of them. And then they put him in this little box, his ashes. And actually there might be some other traditional things in there, sorry I don’t know. So, I mean this is for my family, I’m sure if you’re richer I’m sure you get like a special temple somewhere like really nice, but he was actually a veteran, so he was buried in the veteran cemetery. And it’s way different than our cemeteries, it’s like green grass, it’s taken care of by caretakers every single day, it’s beautiful, it’s up in the hills kind of, it’s really nice. So the whole family was there, my cousin, uncle, aunt, grandma, and other family members, and one of my cousins put the box on his back, they strap it on so they actually carry it up the mountain, all the way up to where his gravesite is. And then you bury the box in the ground. Also I don’t think you wanna like, take pictures of this because it’s kinda like, you’re capturing the soul, and you don’t wanna do that cause then the soul wont be able to go up to heaven. Or like the Chinese heaven. So I mean they didn’t take pictures of the box directly, but they took pictures of like the hills and stuff. And then they just pray some more, like say their goodbyes at the grave.



This is a funeral ritual which involves a very lengthy and specific process for proper mourning, treatment and burial of the body and ashes, and symbolic acts. There is a specific time period of mourning, and even poses and physical actions in mourning; there are specific roles that different family member play in the ritual according to their ages; there are superstitions and beliefs regarding how the deceased’s spirit or soul gets to heaven, and how to do everything correctly so as not to interfere with that transition. The whole process seems to be both in support of the dead family member’s transition to the after life, as well as the family members remembering, honoring, and making sacred that person and their life.