Grave Goods

Grave Goods

I am a ‘thanotourist’, as in thano meaning death. (‘Thanatos’ is the Greek god of non-violent deaths.) I am interested in places associated with death. I want to know more about funerary customs, in order to recognise the old ways, and find new ways that might serve us better. In Vietnam, I see the highly decorative boxes of grave goods that can be purchased, to accompany the dead. These symbolic artefacts are offered at funerals for the deceased to take to the next life. Decorative boxes include paper clothes, shiny accessories – shoes, watches, necklaces and glasses. The people who are left behind do their best to offer respect and auspicious gifts for the grave. Here, a culture with many customs and superstitions around the dead meshes with Communist Party tradition. Hence the former leader, Ho Chi Minh lies in state while party members and tourists pay their respects. His body, embalmed rests waxen in a highly polished mausoleum on a high dais, which sits on a sunken floor. Guards with twinkling bayonets stand frozen below, eyes ahead. I file past on a raised walkway, listening to the pin sharp silence of this heightened ritual.

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