After death of an individual, in many cultures, friends and relatives of the deceased perform various rites and customs, depending on their beliefs, during the period of mourning. These rites mostly vary depending on myths, ethnic beliefs and religion of a given culture. They provide a vital overview of cultures, customs and the relations they have with the other world, in addition to ideas about life after death. Each culture has its own consistent explanation of death which is alleged to be right when it is adopted by its members. This essay will focus on death rituals among Koreans.
Koreans usually believe that if one of their own dies from either natural causes or illness, while outside home, their spirit will always roam aimlessly and then later become a ghost (gaekgwi). It is customary that males are prohibited from witnessing the passing of a female relative and also a female is prohibited from witnessing the death of a male (Robinson, 2000).
Korean mourners usually wear simple clothing, which is appropriate to the occasion. Their men are commonly known to wear sleeveless coats while all female mourners’ would remove their accessories and jewelry and also females are not supposed to comb their hair. The body of the deceased is laid in his or her home with feet and hands bound tightly. One relative of the deceased is expected to take a coat of the dead, climb to the top of the roof to wave the coat in the open air while shouting the name of the deceased aloud for three times. The coat is then placed over to cover the deceased for the whole of the mourning period. This ritual is commonly known as chohon or gobok (Gorman, 2002). On the second day of grief, preparations for the burial ceremony such as the seup are made. This is the bathing and dressing of the deceased before burial (Gorman, 2002). Bath water is perfumed to have a good scent and the body is washed. Hair is carefully combed, and the toe nails and fingers are manicured.
The Koreans believe in the idea of soul eaters that never tire to travel the different dimensions of the world to devour souls of all living things. When someone dies in a village, the body is taken and cremated. Only the men are supposed to be present during the process. After the cremation, the big pieces are separated and ground using pestle and mortar. When the ceremony is finished, a pestle and mortar are burned. The remains are then placed into the gourds and stored for a whole year. The ash that remains is mixed to make soup made of plantains and is drunk during the day of the burial ceremony. When one year is over the ash cremations that were stored using gourds are mixed to make another plantain soup. A feast is then held to honor the deceased and some of the relatives would consume the soup (Renard, 2002).
Nearly all Koreans have a belief in a sole creator of the earth who is a supreme being. Although the dead are usually believed to be closer to the creator than the living, the unique state of heaven in the distant past articulated in creation myths is not restored in life after death. The distance between the Supreme Being and humankind remains unavoidable. Korean peoples believe that witches and sorcerers are never admitted to the spirit world, and hence they are denied proper burial and in some instances their bodies will be subjected to worst actions such as chopping up, burning, and feeding them to hyenas.
Koreans burial customs and rites begin with the act of sending away of the departed requesting them not to bring trouble to the living, and later end with a request for the support and strengthening of life on the earth (Weinberger, 1999). During mourning period visits are paid by people in the society to comfort and condolence the bereaved family. Sometimes for Christians, services are held to console the family at the bereaved home. A ritual killing is made for the ancestors for blessings, since it is believed that animal blood must be shed at this time of mourning to avoid continued misfortune. The funeral usually takes place early in the morning before sunrise and, since it is believed that witch doctors and sorcerers go round in the afternoons to look for corpses for use in their evil purposes.
Most of the rituals performed have great effects on human beings heath as in the case of ash cremation being used to make some solutions to be consumed by the relatives of the deceased. Also, health risks are increased when the brother of the deceased is to sleep with the wife of the deceased husband. In some rituals, the washing of the corpse done can result to the transmission of the death causative as no precautions were done.
Korean funerals are taken as society affairs in which the whole community usually feels the grief of the bereaved. The purpose of the rituals activities preceding the funeral is to console, comfort and encourage the bereaved. The transition in the mourning period is accompanied by cleansing rituals which the bereaved are assured and guaranteed of their acceptance and protection by the Supreme Being (Gorman, 2002).