The way funeral ceremonies are conducted in modern Egypt is very different than how they were conducted in ancient Egypt. Both are very dominated by the religious status of the nation at the time. In ancient Egypt, the bodies of the elites were embalmed and mummified, they were then placed into elaborate tombs that held many of their prized possessions. The ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife, this is very evident by the way they took care of their dead, during some periods of history even bringing food offerings to the tombs. In a National Geographic article about the discovery of King Tuts tomb, Howard Carter said this “It was a sight surpassing all precedent, and one we never dreamed of seeing.” It had been partly looted in ancient times, but a vast number of objects remained, including life-size figures, golden beds, alabaster cups, chariots, and a richly decorated throne (1).” Some may say that the dead were worshiped in a way. Today in modern Egypt, funeral ceremonies are conducted much differently. According to the Pew- Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, in 2010 94.9% of Egyptian citizens were Muslim and that number is expected to rise by 2020 (2). Having this large of a percentage of the population belong to the same religious group, it is no surprise that the religion holds the “authoritative knowledge” when it comes to funerals and burial practices in Egypt. Some of the traditional funeral practices for Islamic funerals I read about in a BBC article include: A person must be buried as soon as possible after death, this is usually no more than 24 hours later, the body is washed and wrapped in cloth, the body should not be disturbed, embalming and cremation are not allowed (3). In Japan, unlike in the United States or Egypt, there is not a belief of life after death or heaven. There is however, a cultural script on how one is to behave and what constitutes a good death: 1. a dying that is peaceful; 2. the basis of such a peaceful death is that the last stage of life is pain-free; 3. that a good death is one in which the dying person is surrounded by caring family; 4. a recognition of a continuity from living through dying; 5. a belief that death was, or should be, a personalized experience appropriate to that person’s values and life conditions; and 6. strong concern that one not become a burden on family, reflecting and creating an ambivalence about the social nature of dying. These are often discussed in terms of choice, timing, place, and person that accompany the process of dying well or poorly (4). I think some of these points could be universally accepted across cultures. In both Egypt and Japan, a good death is when you are surrounded by your family, I think across cultures everyone wants to be surrounded by their tribe when they pass because dying is a social event just like birth. Also across most cultures we believe that the person’s funeral should be highly personalized as a celebration of their life. In most cultures, it is either the medical community, the religious community, or a mixture of the two that holds the authoritative knowledge on death. I think this speaks to how seriously a culture takes their medical system, in some cultures medicine is the religion.
(1) ARALDO DE LUCA. (2018, April 12). How Howard Carter Almost Missed Finding King Tut’s Tomb. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2018/03-04/findingkingtutstomb/
(2)Religions in Egypt | PEW-GRF. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.globalreligiousfutures.org/countries/egypt/religious_demography#/?affiliations_religion_id=0&affiliations_year=2010
(3) Rahman, R. (2011, October 25). Who, What, Why: What are the burial customs in Islam? – BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15444275
(4)Long, S. O. (2004). Cultural scripts for a good death in Japan and the United States: Similarities and differences. Social Science & Medicine, 58(5), 913-928. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2003.10.037