Funeral Customs Around the World

Funeral Customs Around the World Aboriginal Australia

Last Updated: 24 January 2022

Aboriginal societies believe a deceased person’s spirit returns to the land to be reborn and this explores a their customs now and in the past.  In order for this to happen, a smoking ceremony takes places in their home to drive the spirit away.

Aboriginal communities believe in both burial and cremation of their dead and historically, this might have been done in two stages.

The bodies of the deceased would be laid out on an elevated platform to rest for several months.  The body would be covered with leaves and left to decompose over several months. 

When all that was left of the body were bones, their loved ones would paint them with red ochre.  The bones of the body would then be buried, always in an important place to the loved ones, or they would be kept safe, as a token to remember them.

Nowadays, although some Aboriginal cultural elements have been retained, they opt for a more standard burial or cremation as we know it.

Very much a communal process, the whole Aboriginal community will come together in their grief to support one another when a member of a family, community or friend dies.

As a big event, it may take days or even weeks to perform the ceremonies and children miss school so they are a part of it.  There is often not one single service by way of a funeral, it might depend on that specific community’s beliefs and traditions and could be made up of multiple ceremonies, songs and dances.

It is believed within some Aboriginal communities, that a deceased person’s spirit is affected negatively if their name is spoken or a photograph is kept after they die. 

Without using their name and creating a disturbance for the deceased person’s spirit, they may use ‘Kumanjayi’, ‘Kwementyaye’ or ‘Kunmanara’ instead. 

In the Northern Territory, photographs of deceased loved ones are unlikely to be found.

Traditions within the Aboriginal communities are wide ranging and varied and unique to each when considering funeral customs.

However, one thing that is shared by all Aboriginal communities is the genuine unity they demonstrate in that  they come together to pay tribute to those who have died, and support each other in the grief they feel together. 

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