Having attended thousands of funerals and memorials over the years when I used to release white doves at these sombre events, and being located in Western Sydney which is a very culturally diverse place, I saw first hand the major differences in how people from around the world mourn the loss of their loved ones.
The music played at funerals uniquely reflects the culture or ethnicity of the person being remembered. Below are some YouTube mixes of funeral songs from all over the globe – from the Middle East, to the Pacific Islands. From Christian to Hindu to Muslim.
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Funeral Songs From Ghana
Music is a very important part of the culture of Ghana. At a funeral, special songs and dances express grief and convey condolences to the bereaved family. The seriousness of funeral ceremonies is expressed as: “Abusua do funu”, literally meaning “the family loves the dead”. During funerals, different styles of music are played: Hi-Life, Adowa, Sikyi, Bosoe or Christian. At the various stages of the funeral, different songs are sung to convey different messages directed at different audiences or issues. The messages may be directed to God, the dead person, the bereaved family or to death itself. The stages can be when the person is laid in state, moving towards the graveyard, saying the final goodbye, after the burial, at the thanksgiving service or during the final funeral rites.
Funeral songs that are sung at funerals teach both the young and old about death as an inevitable phenomenon and the need for each member of the community to join forces to assist wherever it occurs. Source: The Journal Of Music Research in Africa
Funeral Songs From Jamaica
Jamaican people focus on celebrating the life of the deceased rather than being too mournful that their loved one is no longer with them.
Traditionally, Jamaican funerals don’t start until 9 days after death because that is when they believe the spirit has returned home and found peace. The 9th night celebration involves a gathering of family and friends at the deceased person’s house where they will eat, drink rum, play music, dance, sing hymns, and share stories and memories about the person who has passed away.
The furniture is re-arranged and the mattress is flipped over because they don’t want the spirit of their loved one to remember their physical life and want to stay – they want to encourage them to go on to the afterlife. The 9th night event starts in the evening and lasts most of the night.
The next day the funeral service is held. In the past most Jamaicans were buried, but some now choose cremation. Sometimes special items are placed in the casket and it is tradition to pour rum onto the grave (and some rum is consumed by the mourners.)
Source: Frazer Consultants
Funeral Songs From Ireland
The term ‘funeral wake’ was invented in Ireland, because between death and burial it was expected that the deceased is never left alone and that family and friends keep vigil until the deceased has had their formal send off.
The wake would become a mix of sombre & celebratory gathering of the community where family and friends would eat, drink, and share stories until late in the night. The rosary and prayers would be recited throughout the night. Often the body of the deceased would be laid out on a bed, wrapped in white cloth and mourners could say their last words or prayers to their loved one. Lit candles were placed around the body and often tobacco was smoked to keep the evil spirits away. Clocks were stopped at the time of death and mirrors were all covered or turned around. A funeral service with a priest would occur in the evening and then the next day at the grave site. Source: FuneralOne
Funeral Songs From India
Hindu people believe in reincarnation, so a large part of their funeral rituals are helping the deceased to a new body for their next life. All hindus except babies, children and saints, are cremated. Cremation usually happens within a day of the death.
“Antyesti” means ‘last sacrifice’ and refers to the Hindu funeral traditions. The funeral rites vary depending on the region of India (or elsewhere in the world they are located), as well as the caste, gender and age of the deceased.
Usually, the body is washed and wrapped in cloth. The body is carried to the cremation location, which is usually near a river or lake. The body is placed on a funeral pyre and set alight. After the body has been cremated, the ashes are then placed in the river or lake.
Funeral Songs From Spain
In Spain, when it is known that someone doesn’t have long to live a priest will give last rites, prayers and communion. After death, just like the Irish tradition, someone will stay with the deceased at all times to keep them company until they are buried.
Family and friends will gather at the wake to say their goodbyes to the person who has passed on, eat, drink and share fond memories. A funeral service is usually held within 24 hours of death.
Candles and flowers decorate the wake, the funeral service and the burial site. Family and friends are also encouraged to leave special items in the casket with their loved one as a token of love.
The Spanish have an annual All Saints Day, where families visit the graves of their deceased.
Source: Universal Class
Funeral Songs From Samoa
Samoan and Islander funerals generally follow Christian tradition. In my experience, burials are more common that cremation. Mourners wear special woven mats wrapped around their waist. Music is very important at the funeral service. Most often hymns are sung, and everyone sings in beautiful harmony. Sometimes a brass band playing a hymn such as “Abide With Me” will march along behind the casket being carried to the burial site. Before the casket is buried it is wrapped in a woven mat. After the casket has been lowered into the burial site, the young men in the family will pick up shovels and fill the grave with soil. The grave site will then be covered with flower arrangements.
Funeral Songs From Iran
The majority of Iranian funeral customs are based on Muslim religion. Ideally the funeral should happen within 24 hours after death. The deceased is washed following complicated cleansing rituals, then wrapped in white cloth. The body is buried on its right side with the head facing Mecca. Prayers are recited from the Quran.
Iranians (like many middle eastern cultures) exhibit intense grief during the preparation for the funeral and at the burial. There is much crying, wailing, screaming, especially from the women. If you have never seen it before and aren’t expecting it, it can be upsetting.
Generally the mourning period lasts for 3 days. The family will visit the mosque for prayers and also go back to the gravesite to pray and bring flowers.
Funeral Songs From China
Funeral customs in China vary depending on the age of the deceased, the cause of death, their social and marital status and the region of China they lived. The traditions are a mix of Chinese folk religion, Buddhism and Christianity.
The funeral service takes place over seven days. Different colours are worn by the mourners depending on their relationship with their loved one. Red clothes are never worn because that is a colour of happiness, so only worn at weddings.
Funeral services are a time to pay respect to all ancestors as taught in Confucian philosophy. On the day of the funeral, close relatives wear white. A funeral procession is held and offerings of food and incense are made at the grave.
Every year the Chinese have a Qing Ming Festival, which is one day a year that everyone visits the gravesites of their deceased relatives and tidies up their grave sites.