Poignant pictures of death rituals

Around the world, funerals take many forms.

For the past several years, photographer Klaus Bo has documented how different cultures deal with death in his ongoing Dead and Alive Project. His aim is to document at least 15 distinct death rituals, including ones from all five major religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism)—a goal he admits will likely take “the rest of my life.”

Bo thinks his work will surprise people by showing them how other cultures deal with death.

“It’s the one thing that we definitely have in common all over the world, that we’re going to die,” he says. Yet although many of the ideas behind death rituals are the same—the desire to honor a dead person’s life, or give them a safe passage to the other side—the specific practices and beliefs that go along with them vary incredibly by region and religion.

These photos take you to death rituals around the world: to Ghana, where a poultry farmer is buried in a casket that looks like a chicken; to Haiti, where a dead priestess’ spirit is called out of her body; and to Madagascar, where bodies are taken out of their graves every seven years.

<p>Church members carry Nene Nomo’s body to his grave.</p>

Ghana

Church members carry Nene Nomo’s body to his grave.

<p>The oldest son carries a candle and offerings of rice and flowers for the spirit of his mother, Ramri Tamang, at her death ritual in the Timal region, east of Kathmandu.</p>

Nepal

The oldest son carries a candle and offerings of rice and flowers for the spirit of his mother, Ramri Tamang, at her death ritual in the Timal region, east of Kathmandu.

<p>Women in Port-au-Prince chant to lure the spirit of a deceased mambo, or Vodou priestess, into a kalabasa squash (seen floating in a bowl in the center). Afterward, they will release the spirit at a nearby road junction.</p>

Haiti

Women in Port-au-Prince chant to lure the spirit of a deceased mambo, or Vodou priestess, into a kalabasa squash (seen floating in a bowl in the center). Afterward, they will release the spirit at a nearby road junction.

<p>Bodies are cremated at Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi’s main cremation grounds. More than 150 bodies are cremated there every day, and its frequent use has caused deforestation in the area.</p>

India

Bodies are cremated at Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi’s main cremation grounds. More than 150 bodies are cremated there every day, and its frequent use has caused deforestation in the area.

<p>Famadihanas are usually held every seven years. When someone dies in between a Famadihanas, they are placed in a coffin until they can enter the family tomb at the next ritual.</p>

Madagascar

Famadihanas are usually held every seven years. When someone dies in between a Famadihanas, they are placed in a coffin until they can enter the family tomb at the next ritual.

Read more about death rituals in our April issue of National Geographic.

Susanne Sayers, Merete Dalberg, Emmanuel Delone (Haiti), Bishwas Asitis and Arun Karki (Nepal), John Owoo and Eric Adjetey Anang (Ghana), Andry Andrianaivo (Madagascar) and Pia Flores (Guatemala) contributed to this report.

Read This Next

Haitians reflect on the past while confronting the future

Chunk of an ancient supercontinent discovered under New Zealand

These mystery stories solve crimes and spark travel

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet