Forty Years On The Pacific/Strange Burials
|←Areas of Countries on the Pacific||Forty Years On The Pacific by
|Cruise of the Shenandoah-Rebel Privateer→|
RETURNING from my trip to Alaska in August, 1916, I saw on the shores of Bella Bella, between Prince Charlotte and Milbank Sounds, little tombstones in Indian burial grounds. Inside these grounds were small wooden cottages. These consisted of one room furnished with the effects taken from the room wherein the Indian had passed away.
While the burial customs of the Siwash Indians of British Columbia may impress a traveler, the rites of the Parsees in Bombay are most extraordinary. These people worship the sun, and at one time they buried their dead in the tops of the trees, where the bodies were devoured by vultures. At present their burials take place at the top of the Tower of Silence situated on Malaban Hill, six miles outside the city. Even yet roosting among the branches of the trees are to be seen hundreds of vultures, awaiting the deposit of the corpse and the departure of the mourners, when they swoop down upon their prey. The Parsees' custom appears strange when we know that they are among the brainiest people on earth and own nearly half Bombay.
The burial system of the Siwash Indian and the Parsee are carried out in accordance with religious rites, while the New Orleans, Louisiana, practice is compulsory, made necessary by commercial exigency.
In a recent visit to New Orleans I learned that all the burials for the past two hundred years had been made in vaults above ground. This condition is rendered necessary owing to the Mississippi River being higher than the city, which is protected by high dykes.
Evidence of the practicability of cremation was forcibly impressed upon me in the American section of a city in the Far East. A friend was taking me for a ride. In passing an undertaker's parlor he recognized a lady friend emerging, carrying a small box. He stopped the car and asked her to have a ride, as he was driving in her direction. She declined, but asked him to take the box and leave it at her house, whereupon she deposited the box in the rear seat beside me. As we were starting, she asked him to wait until she went to the butcher's shop, where she obtained a couple of pounds of chops; these she placed in the same seat.
We started, and my friend explained that the box contained the cremated remains of Mrs. 's husband. He
drove through the parks, dilating upon their beauties, but I could not get out of my head the strange position I occupied, having on the seat with me a dead husband's ashes and a couple of pounds of chops.
A new crematorium had just been completed and my host suggested stopping to show me the latest styles in burials. On entering, the janitor took us to the door of a furnace, opened it, and touched a spring. Out rolled a long box. He proceeded to explain the working of the sarcophagus, into which bodies were placed for cremation, impressing upon us that it was the latest patent, worked on roller bearings operated by electricity. He then conducted us to an outside room equipped with shelves, on which were arranged various styles of urns for holding the ashes. These were of copper, brass, nickel or silver^at prices according to size and material. Urns or vases suitable for holding the ashes of a married couple ranged from twenty-five to thirty dollars, while a larger one, for holding the ashes of a family of six, would cost fifty dollars. I had visited Japan, and obtained some knowledge of the lasting properties and artistic character of Damascene and Cloisonne ware, and gave him the addresses of manufacturers from whom he promised to secure a supply of urns.
Burials at sea take place at night, and differ so much that it is difficult to describe all. On large ships they evoke but little attention. In some cases where deceased is accompanied by relatives, the body is taken home. Generally, however, a body is wrapped in canvas, covered with a flag, and consigned to the mighty deep. Possibly, dancing on deck may be proceeding. The music ceases, however, and a certain solemnity prevails.
Maoris cannot understand the white man's burial customs. When the volcano of Tarrewerra overflowed in 1886, a number of natives were buried under the lava. Later on the Government exhumed the bodies and re-interred them in a cemetery—quite an unnecessary step in the estimation of the Maoris.
Like aborigines of some other countries, Maoris bury in the same grave the effects of a deceased member. On one occasion near Auckland, a frugal Maori had a presentiment of death and drew a check for his savings—one thousand dollars—which one of the tribe cashed on the understanding that he would bury the cash with the deceased. The bank manager had taken the numbers of the notes, and some months later discovered them in circulation. He sent for payee and demanded an explanation, but was informed by the rogue that he had buried his own check for the amount to balance the matter.