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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

Fascinating article on how different cultures deal with death, grief and mourning. I confess to not having watched the video of mourners dancing with a dead baby.

Rainbows of mourning

This is a video of people dancing with a recently deceased baby and it tells us something profound about the psychology of grief and mourning.

Despite a common stereotype, death of a loved one can provoke some of the most culturally diverse forms of emotion and social ritual.

The video is rare footage of the Chigualo ceremony, a mourning ritual for children aged less than seven-years-old who have just passed away from the Afrocolombian community of the Pacific coast of Colombia.

Unfortunately, there is almost nothing written about the ceremony available online in English but the Spanish language Wikipedia has good page about it.

The belief behind the ceremony is that when young children die they become angels and go straight to heaven. Therefore, these deaths are not an occasion for sadness, as many might assume, but a cause for a goodbye celebration.

You can see in the video that the Chigualo involves upbeat rhythms, singing, games and dancing – including passing the dead baby between people at the ceremony.

This may seem shocking or disrespectful to people accustomed to sadness and distress-based mourning, but in its own community it is the single most respectful way of saying goodbye to a recently blessed angel.

Psychology has a stereotype problem with grief and mourning. Over and over again false assumptions are repeated, not even valid in Western cultures, that there are certain ‘stages’ to grief, that people will reliably react in certain ways with certain key emotions – sadness, anger, resignation and so on.

This leads to both a professional pathologising of grieving people including endless variations on ‘the person hasn’t accepted their loss’, ‘they haven’t elaborated their grief’ and ‘they’re in denial’ applied to anyone who doesn’t mourn within the expected boundaries.

Moreover, it leads to a cultural blindness about how other societies feel and understand the loss of others with the implicit assumption that the experience of grief is somehow universal.

Read the rest here.

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Replies to This Discussion

I did not watch the video (and I will not watch it). The Wikipedia page in Spanish says the practice is with the baby. But who knows what the video shows. The whole point according to the Wikipedia article is that the occasion is joyous in a way because the dead child under 7 years old will be an angel.  

I should add that I know the lyrics of Andean songs that speak of the death of a baby in basically the same way; the music is upbeat and festive, but the lyrics are a mixed bag, happy for the new little angel that is greeted by the stars in the sky, and the soul goes to live in a flower or a little fish; at the same time, there is great sadness at the loss of life. Here is one: "Rin del Angelito", it does not sound mournful but I think it has sad overtones. It is a beautiful song.

I believe funeral rites are there for a reason and I strongly suspect that it is not to send the dead person to "heaven" or to "another existence" but maybe it would be to do with the people that are left behind... 

The passing of someone always leaves a hole, small or large, whatever, around the people close or related to her/him; different societies in the guise of religion have found different ways to comfort and subside the shock, the impact of death, even if that death was anticipated.

It seems in eastern countries such as China, Japan and others, where buddhism is prominent, the whole ritual is much more lenghty, elaborate  and individualized for each dead person (they go as far sometimes as changing their names), than in occident.  Also, in eastern civilizations it's white that symbolyzes death as opposed to black in occident and christianism.

This mourning or easing away from the dead person (the ritual) that is more lenghty and personal in eastern countries may settle the minds and allay the pain of the close ones of the dead person in a gentler way than the rather quick and cold ritual of the west...

For me, the rituals I have attended pre-church, church, the burying, and the post-burying mean nothing,and I have attended a few of these ceremonies in my country;  in all cases, it seemed a way for people to socialize and had actually little to do with the person that was dead.

Not the last one I attended,but the one before, was the ritual of a friend very close to me, an atheist, whose last words to me were "Goodbye my dear".  Still, it was held in an anglican church, per the family wishes, with minimal fuss, lots of atheists present; I cried the whole time and held the hand of a friend.  He was to be cremated.  Afterwards, there was a big party organized by his ex-girlfriend in a restaurant/bar, I felt NOT in the party but managed to stay close to common friends and talk quietly about him...  I left very early.

So, maybe these eastern rituals (without the religious connotations) have a point ?  which brings me to think about an atheist death and if some kind of ritual could ease the shock and pain of the loved ones...

So, that maybe in an extreme case, a person who hasn't mourned her/his dead wouldn't maybe end up in deep depression... 

Yes, death rituals are very important for the living. Regarding eastern practices, I think I may have mentioned this movie already, but the japanese movie "Departures" is a must see in my opinion. Very moving, strange and powerful. 

Except for the part where they start in a church, and then walk back to the church, i do like how New Orleans does it, with second lines...


the casket is rolled one last time, for "one last dance"...this video, for famous Kermit James, has very extensive "last dance", usually is not THAT long, but Kermit was king there.


and sad music is played all the way to graveyard, musicians attend funerals with their instuments, and ppl follow  along with umbrellas and handkerchefs waving



after the burial (which is almost always above ground in Nola)

 on way back to church, --IT IS THE SECOND LINE----------it turns into lively, joyful music and street dance party going along, eveyrone lines the sidewalks to watch it going by.

(this is to celebrate the dead person is now "in better place", but, i just like the music)

c'mon, this has to be good for another Second line (on way away from graveyard, with lively music)



This one, the costumes/parade feel is this next 2nd line, but kind of an odd choice of song, lol, maybe there is an atheist involved in the choice of this particular second line song here, lol....

Professional musicians, and costumed "steppers" can be hired for a 2nd line,

or, if the deceased was their pal, muscians, costumed steppers might join in just to make sure the deceased gets a marvelous second line to remember.  Decendents of native americans also wear their costumes for funeral second lines.

Once, when we spent an evening digging a huge, deep grave in hard earth, for our last dog, i realized, physical labor is good for same way dancing is, too..


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