Death Days – Past & Present

sunrise-phu-quoc-island-oceanBernie Bell is a regular contributor to Orkney online news and blogs and has sent us an interesting article giving an insight into another societies approach to death.

Bernie takes up the story….

“We were staying at The Belgrave Arms Hotel in Helmsdale, on our way back from our holiday in Kilmartin Glen.  We were talking with the proprietor, who told us that they had recently returned from their holiday in Vietnam.  This was interesting enough in itself, as to me the word ‘Vietnam’ still conjures up war, helicopters, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and that terrible image of the little girl – running from something that she couldn’t possibly run away from.

The country is very much recovering and that, although there isn’t much conspicuous wealth about, the people are working with what they have and building on what they have and there is a general air of optimism.

They had a young man as their guide who told them something of the traditions still followed by his family.  He was working hard to earn enough to make his father’s ‘second house’.  His father is now elderly and the Vietnamese people accept and embrace death as very much a part of life.  When parents are nearing death their sons are expected to build them a ‘second house’.  This is not what we would think of as a house more of a shrine, but they refer to them as ‘second houses’.

When a person dies, they are placed in a box and left for some time in order to decompose.  When they are well and truly decomposed the family gather together and wash the bones thoroughly – they must be absolutely pristine.  The family then have a ‘Day of Death’ when they place the bones in the ‘second house’.  The spirit is then left in peace to move on to their next life.

On Death Day the ceremonies include burning their most valued possessions so that they too can accompany the person to the new life. This used to include burning their money, but it has now changed –  the family buy pretend money to burn instead!

However, this way of life is changing and evolving and will possibly have gone in 20/30 years time.  The ‘second houses’ are placed among the fields belonging to the family – marking their land.

In 5,000 years time, what would archaeologists make of the assemblages of carefully cleaned bones in the remains of their ‘second homes’ – if the stories associated with these traditions had been lost, too?”