Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Funeral: Process

(PICTURE: A Vietnamese funeral. The graves you see are not where a person is buried though at a funeral. Read below.)

Let me take you through what happens to a Vietnamese person after they die:

Step 1: The day that a person passes away they are laid out in the family home. Friend, neighbors and family come to the house to spend time with the person grieving (This was my blog two days ago).

Step 2: The day after the person passes away they are put into a decorative wooden box. This box is kept at the family home and has a glass window that allows you to see the person's face.

Step 3: Two days after the person passes away everyone gathers again and has a procession to the rice paddies. The person is then buried in the rice paddy.

Step 4: Three or five years (depending on what a psychic says) after a person is buried in the rice paddy, their box is dug up. The box is then opened and all of their bones are washed. The washed bones are then placed into a small ceramic box and laid to rest in a cemetery or a nice tomb in the rice paddies. The picture above shows these nicer tombs.

As I mentioned yesterday, a lot of people -- mostly family -- gathered together two days after Huyen's Great Grandmother passed away. It was pouring rain on the Thursday and there were so many people that they could not possibly fit in one house. All of the neighbors set up tarps and put out tables and chairs for people. The neighbors also cooked food for everyone to eat after the funeral.

Huyen's Great Grandmother was in the box, still inside the house. It was like two different worlds: inside the house women were wailing and hysterically crying. Outside of the house people chatted away and tried to stay dry. While all this was going on a six or seven person band played traditional Vietnamese music on very old instruments. The instruments gave off an eerily beautiful sound that could be heard underneath the crying.

An announcement was made and it was time for the funeral procession to start. Men gathered and lifted up the box and placed it on top of a wagon. In front of the wagon were dozens of women from the local pagoda who carried colorful flags. The band took their places in front of the wagon and played as we walked out of the village and into the rice paddies. We walked about 3/4 of a mile, constantly stopping on the way. Eventually we came to the rice paddy where Huyen's Great Grandmother was laid into the earth. Like in Western burials, the coffin was placed completely under the ground. However, unlike Western burials, a giant mound of mud and dirt was piled on top of the coffin. The workers dug out a moat of sorts around the grave. All around us were other giant piles of dirt with incense burning on top of them. We were literally surrounded by everyone from the village who had died within the last five years.