Death in Korean culture

When death arrives, it is customary for the family members present to wail. Mourners don simple garbs appropriate to the occasion. The men wear a sleeveless coat and the women, free of all jewellery and accessories, refrain from combing their hair.

The day following the death of the deceased, preparations for burying the corpse are made. The first of these preparations involves bathing and dressing the corpse. The bath water is perfumed and after drying the corpse the hair is combed and fallen hair carefully collected. The corpse is fully dressed in suui, the traditional death dress, which is made from either hemp cloth or silk.

The corpse is then bound with ropes seven times. The coffin is tightly sealed and placed carefully in a dry and secure place within the house. A make-shift shrine is set up where pictures and written documents about the deceased are placed. It is here that the mourners receive guests. Afterwards, the family of the deceased dress themselves in the appropriate mourning attire which varies in length according to the family member’s relationship with the deceased.

The mourning period is based on a variety of factors, including the social standing of the family, the social position of the deceased, and so on. It frequently lasts about three days. On the last day of the mourning period, the funeral procession is held. On this day, a bier (a stand) is used for transporting the coffin to the grave site. The carrying of the bier to the grave site is done with much fanfare. People carrying funeral banners lead the procession. The bier is decorated with dragons and Chinese phoenix paintings. Around the bier, colourfully decorated dolls are placed to guard the deceased (photographed below). The procession is led by someone singing a deep and mournful song; at the back of the bier, family members, relatives and friends follow.

At the grave site, the coffin is lowered and the eldest male mourner takes a deep bow. Taking some earth, he casts it upon the coffin. Other family members then follow. Hired workers finish covering the grave with earth.

A traditional Korean funeral
A traditional Korean funeral procession