FUNERALS IN VIETNAM
In the old days, funerals (and sometimes reburials) especially for the wealthy were elaborate affairs. In the early Communist era these kind of rituals were discouraged but are now making a comeback. In reference to death and funerals in Vietnam, it is important to remember that jokes about sickness and death are in very bad taste among Vietnamese.
Dependent upon locality and ethnic group, as well as upon religious beliefs, funerals will vary in accordance with wealth and social position of the family. The head of the home is normally given a more elaborate funeral than is a wife or children. This is equally true when cremation is the method for handling the corpse. Burials may be in cemeteries or on family property, in simple round graves or in elaborately constructed and decorated graves. Normally the cities have cemeteries and funerals are more elaborate than in villages. But even in the latter, it is necessary for descendents to conform to a pattern of "entertainment" often beyond their means. The amount of food, drink, music, etc., provided at a funeral is considered by some as indicative of the amount of respect the family had for the deceased. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]
Because embalming is not practiced in Vietnam, funerals normally take place shortly after death. There are exceptions, however; and on such occasions the body is placed in a casket with sand about it, and perfume is used to conceal odors of decay. Because of the heat and humidity, however, even this practice must be short-termed. For many villagers, the funeral maybe quite simply the choosing of a burial spot, the digging of a shallow grave, the placing of the casket, and the closing of the grave. In such cases the casket may be attached to a bamboo pole and carried to the gravesite on the shoulders of two men. In most cases the grave is tended from time to time; the dirt is repiled and shaped to mark it as a grave; and grass and weeds are removed. ++
Graves in Vietnam
The Vietnamese, like many Asian cultures, believe making a person comfortable in the afterlife is of utmost importance. In Vietnam however graves sometimes aren't well tended. That is because the condition of the grave is not as important as the location. A good location is one that is in harmony with its surrounding and the right spot for a person depend on what Chinese astrological sign they are born under. A person who is born in the Year of the Buffalo, for example, is most in harmony with the monkey and the chicken. A good burial site is one that has landmarks nearby that look like these animals. Asians can spot these landmarks easily when they point them out to westerners they can't see them at all.
Graves are ideally build above the ground, often in accordance with feng shui, near a stream or water and in sight of a mountain. A variety of gravesites dot the countryside of Vietnam. Many graves are merely round piles of dirt in the form of a circle, and may be found in rice paddies, on hillsides, etc. The Vietnamese believe that the individual must earn the right to be buried, and will therefore often bury the deceased at a prime location on his land. They will then farm around the grave. Those who are financially able often erect barriers and decorations around the grave, utilizing the same type of materials and decorations found on pagodas and temples. Wisdom dictates that extra trouble be taken to avoid needless desecration of graves. Respect for gravesites not only promotes a "good neighbor policy", but reveals a feeling for Vietnamese beliefs. According to these beliefs, desecration of a grave not only affects the physical site itself, but angers the Spirits, who might directly attack the living. It is for the latter reason that any destruction of graves, purposeful or accidental, should be remedied without delay. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]
Typical Death In The Vietnamese Community
When the old people are ill and know they are going to die, death is acceptable and is not shocking for the family. If a dying person is Buddhist and is in the hospital, he or she asks for the monk to come to the bedside to pray. The prayer may be said for the sick person to get better. If a person is expecting to die, people in the community want him or her to die peacefully. Old people that are ill are usually not afraid of dying, but this may depend on the condition or illness. Sometimes, the illness prolongs a life too long, and the family will be hurt by spending a lot of money and time on prolonging life, even if the patient will not get better. Sometimes, because of the love and relationship between the family and the patient, the family tries to keep the dying person alive as long as possible without care about the cost. Some families are willing to pay for whatever is necessary. A terminally ill person who is expected to die usually prefers to die at home, with family members around them and with those they are close to at that time, rather than at the hospital. [Source: Christine Wilson Owens, Kim Lundgreen, CCM, University of Washington, June 1, 2002 /*]
Another point about death that is especially true in the Vietnamese community is that when someone dies, the family doesn't call upon emergency officials right away. First, they try to bring the monk to the scene. If the monk is not available, they try to bring some elderly people who can chant Vietnamese chanting. The prayer is done first, and then the officials are called. In the case of death, it is very important to contact the family and ask them what they want to do before the officials come. Some people believe that within the body the brain may die but the heart is still working a little bit. This makes the last minutes of life a very important time for the person to settle down, to make ready for rebirth. Buddhists believe in rebirth, not reincarnation. The death is just one thing that occurs for a person to be reborn somewhere else. The parents need to help the person to be reborn in the proper place by providing a peaceful and religious environment for death.
Ideas About Death and Dying in Vietnam
In Vietnamese culture, religion dictates some of the rituals in the dying and bereavement process. In Buddhism for older people who are ill and know they are going to die, death is acceptable and is not shocking for the family. Older Vietnamese people may prefer to be at home at the end of life with family members around them. If the older person has to die in the hospital or residential facility they may wish that family members have the opportunity to stay with them. If a person does not die at home it is regarded as causing bad luck for the family. Dying people who are Buddhist may wish that a small group of monks can stay with them during the last few hours of their life. [Source: Vietnamese Cultural Profile, Diversicare, March 2009]
Pham Công Son, (1996) a Vietnamese anthropologist, said, "Death is not the end but is the final stage of one life to be transformed into another." He also asserted that death rituals provide the bereaved with a chance to fulfill their filial obligations to the deceased. Because death is usually unexpected, it often leaves family members and friends with unfinished business with the deceased. Since filial responsibilities are weighed heavily in the Vietnamese culture, and proper death rituals according to one's abilities are important, death rituals give the bereaved a final chance to make it right by the deceased and thus provide a sense of continuity as well as final closure. [Source: Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN, University of Washington, December 1, 2000 ^^]
Although many death rituals are burdened with rules and can be costly, the long-term effects they may have on participants are far from etherial. The following anecdote detailing the death rituals of a Vietnamese family demonstrates that such rituals can have a therapeutic effect on the dying and bereaved. The details of this example should not be used as representative of all funerary rituals in Vietnam. Variations within the Vietnamese culture occur between regions, religious affiliations, ethnic backgrounds, etc. However, one common principle exists across subgroups: there is intensive and extensive family and community involvement throughout the whole process with the immediate family being gradually weaned off the support of family and friends over a period of 2 to 3 years. ^^
Among Vietnamese tribal people and to some extant among Vietnamese themselves beliefs arising within animism give rise to the demand that proper disposal of the dead be made to avoid creating a wandering spirit. It is the same religious concept that encourages the mutilation of corpses by the enemy. It is this same fear that causes afterbirth to be taken some distance into the jungle by the tribespeople and buried quickly lest it attract evil spirits who will then cause the baby's death. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]
Fear creates various burial customs among the people. It is fear that causes a tribe to bury its dead with exposed feet, or others merely to place the body in a deep grave left open so that the spirit can return to the village. Fear causes some tribes to tend the graves carefully until a set time. Then after a ceremony of buffalo sacrifice and wine drinking, the grave is completely abandoned. Fear of spirits causes some animists to place their dead relatives parallel to the side of their houses while awaiting burial. A stranger who dies is placed perpendicular to the sides of the houses to prevent his spirit from becoming confused with that of a dead inhabitant. ++
Buddhist Ideas About Death and Dying
A Vietnamese Buddhist monk from Co Lam Temple said: "All Buddhists do meditation. One of the meditations done is on death. Everyday, through meditation, we recall our death and so we do not worry about dying. When a Buddhist person is dying, the family may think, "What can we do for the dying person?" They will invite a monk to see the dying person and to do chanting. In Buddhism, the word chanting is used instead of prayer. As a person is dying we chant in permanency of the life. We do this for two reasons. First, we want to make the person happy before they die. Second, we want to make the family understand that death is a part of our life. It is because of our birth that we have to accept our death. Death is not unusual. That is the Buddhist point of view. So, everyday, when we finish our normal regular prayer, we do some meditation on death. That is why the Buddhist is not afraid to die, and also why the family is ready to accept the death. [Source: Christine Wilson Owens, Kim Lundgreen, CCM, University of Washington, June 1, 2002]
Before-Death Customs Among Vietnamese
The family has a central role in the Vietnamese culture. In cases of terminal illness the family should be consulted to make the health care decisions to avoid worrying the ill person. The diagnosis of a terminal illness should not be communicated to the person concerned but rather to their family. In the Vietnamese family structure, traditionally the eldest male (father or son) is responsible for the decision making, but often the person with the best English assumes this role. Also, the removal of life support may require extensive family discussion. The family wish to‘protect’ the person from diagnosis and prognosis of a terminal illness, places the responsibility for the decision on the entire family rather than on the individual. [Source: Vietnamese Cultural Profile, Diversicare, March 2009 ]
There is sometimes an initial belief that if the diagnosis and prognosis is communicated to the dying person, they will give up hope and lose the will to live. Once the family has accepted the prognosis, plans for support, and the personal care plan can be discussed. The ill/older person accepts the authority of the family. If a dying person is Buddhist and is in hospital or residential facility, he or she will ask for the monk to come to the bedside to chant (pray). If the monk is not available, you could bring some elderly people who can do Vietnamese chanting. In the case of death, it is very important to contact the family and ask them what they would like to do, before the officials come. Some people believe that within the body the brain may die but the heart is still working. This makes the last minutes of life a very important time for the person to settle, to get ready for rebirth. The Catholic patients/residents may ask for a priest for last rites and communion at the end of life. The body should ideally be at home for one day, so the lost spirit does not bring bad luck to the family.
Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN wrote: "In 1994, my uncle was diagnosed with liver cancer that had spread all over his abdomen. After absorbing the nature of uncle's prognosis, the family took him home. In the last week, uncle's condition worsened. Death looked imminent and the family took turns so that someone was at uncle's bedside at all times. My cousins sent word to all those who were special to uncle to come and say goodbye. All uncle's grandchildren, ages eighteen months to eleven years, were brought home to see him and remained there. [Source: Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN, University of Washington, December 1, 2000 ^^]
"Close friends and relatives came and went frequently during this last week. Each used their talent to "serve" uncle. Since I am a nurse, I searched all over town for some morphine to relieve his pain. A cousin who is a doctor came daily to take uncle's blood pressure and give medical advice. An aunt cooked him his favorite dishes while knowing that he might not eat much. Grandchildren showed him how well they did in school. The youngest ones showed him the newest "tricks" that they had learned. We spent very brief moments with uncle, mindful of his diminishing strength. We spent most of the time with each other. Later, we would reminisce about the events of uncle's last week and what each surviving family member was able to do for him. ^^
"When uncle took his last breath, the crying began gradually as reality started to sink in. All manners of grief were shown; from stoic solemnity to weeping, crying, sobbing and screaming. The only thing not acceptable would have been laughing. All the grandchildren were present and they all cried, even the eighteen month old baby. ^^
"The sense of the dead is that of the final," says a Vietnamese proverb, meaning that funeral ceremonies must be solemnly organized. In a traditional Vietnamese funeral ceremony the deceased person’s sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law had to wear coarse gauze turbans and tunics, and hats made of straw or of dry banana fiber. The deceased person’s grandchildren and relatives also had to wear mourning turbans. During the days when the dead were still laid out at home, the mourning went on with worshipping meals and mourning music. Relatives, neighbours, and friends came to offer their condolences. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
The date and time for the funeral procession, le dua tang, must be carefully selected. Relatives, friends, and descendants take part in the funeral procession to accompany the dead along the way to the burial ground. At the grave site, the coffin is buried and covered. After three days of mourning, the family visits the tomb again, le mo cua ma or worship the opening the grave; after 49 days, le chung that, the family stops bringing rice for the dead to the altar. And finally, after 100 days, the family celebrates tot khoc, or the end of the tears. After one year is the ceremony of the first anniversary of the relative’s death and after two years is the ceremony of the end of mourning. ~
Nowadays, mourning ceremonies follow new rituals which are simplified; they consist of covering and putting the dead body into the coffin, the funeral procession, the burial of the coffin into the grave, and the visits to the tomb. The deceased person’s family members wear a white turban or a black mourning band. ~
Preparation of the Body After Death in Vietnam
After death the body was washed and dressed; then a le ngam ham, or chopstick, was laid between the teeth and a pinch of rice and three coins were dropped in the mouth. Then the body was put on a grass mat laid on the ground according to the saying "being born from the earth, one must return back to the earth." The dead body was enveloped with white cloth, le kham liem, and put into the coffin, le nhap quan. Finally, the funeral ceremony, le thanh phuc, was officially performed. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN wrote: "After a time, the children were taken away. The family bathed uncle's body and dressed him in his best outfit. Much love and care was put into making him look presentable. This provided another chance for us to say goodbye. Uncle was left lying in state at home for several hours to wait for an auspicious time and for the other close friends and relatives to arrive. The family took turns keeping a vigil over the body at all times. An altar was set with a photograph, candles, and incense. Relatives and friends who came to pay their respects stood in front of the altar, burned incense, and quietly said a prayer for uncle or said goodbye, or had whatever private conversation they wished to have with uncle at that moment. "Before uncle was moved into the coffin, a prayer service was held. Before closing the lid of the coffin, the family had another opportunity to see uncle for the last time. Another outpouring of grief occurred since uncle would now be separated from us by a box. [Source: Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN, University of Washington, December 1, 2000 ^^]
T.T Thich Nguyen, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk from Co Lam Temple said: "During a person's last minutes, a monk may encourage him/her to leave the Earth happily so that they will go to a new world that is happy. Although there is no objection to autopsy, it is encouraged that the body be left alone 6-8 hours before an autopsy is performed. This is because, at death, a spirit still needs time to leave the body. The body is left like a piece of wood, but the spirit may still be lingering around. The chanting is very important for lifting the spirit to go, and to help make a way for the spirit to go. For thousands of years, it has been believed that some days are better than other days for burial. There is a formula written in the holy books. But now, everyday is just like every other day, as the Earth moves around the Sun. Ninety to 95 percent of Vietnamese Buddhists will believe that there are certain days and times that are better for burial which include considerations of ages of family members. Monks will respect this belief, but are moving away from this practice. Generally, a burial happens within one to seven days of a death. [Source: Christine Wilson Owens, Kim Lundgreen, CCM, University of Washington, June 1, 2002 /*]
When the body is ready to be put in the coffin, the Buddhists and Catholics do things differently. The Buddhists do chanting and use very special clothing and blankets to cover the body. Whether to cremate or to bury a body is a personal family decision, not dictated by religion. /*\
Vietnamese After-Death Vigil
Usually the Vietnamese choose a burial date that matches well with the age of the family member who died. They get advice from the monk who will say when to do the burial, the prayer or the chanting on a certain day and at a certain time. That timeline is very important, too. Sometimes families will have several religious sessions with family surrounding the body, chanting and doing prayers. Vietnamese tend to use oil lamps not incense.[Source: Christine Wilson Owens, Kim Lundgreen, CCM, University of Washington, June 1, 2002]
Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN wrote: "The coffin remained in the family home for three days, and relatives, in-laws, neighbors, and colleagues of my aunt, uncle, and cousins came and paid their respects. Money, flowers, and wreaths were donated according to the guest's ability and closeness to the family. Food and drinks were served to all as they came. Most stayed at least long enough to say their condolences and chat. Close friends and relatives spent hours or days with the family, helping to cook, organize, direct the flow of visitors, or just chat about good and bad times, about uncle, and about each other. There were tearful moments and also occasional laughter. A family member kept vigil over the coffin at all times.[Source: Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN, University of Washington, December 1, 2000 ^^]
"Removing the coffin from the home was another emotional peak in the ebb and flow of grief. Uncle would be leaving home for the last time. A prayer service was held before we moved the coffin. When this concluded, family and relatives cried and called out for uncle again, saying goodbye yet again." ^^
Vietnamese Funeral Procession
Funeral processions are a common feature of Vietnamese funerals. In the typical procession, the eldest son of the deceased leads the march to the place of burial. He is followed by the clergy, relics of worship, and a picture of the deceased. If within the means of the family, a hired band is next in line, followed by the hearse. Female members of the family, dressed in white and wearing white head-bands which signify mourning, follow the hearse on foot. Other mourners follow to complete the procession. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]
Funeral processions often feature four men carrying a shrine with a photograph of the deceased; people carrying flags and banners and offerings of fruit and burning incense; musicians with gongs and drums; and family members wearing headbands. Votive papers were dropped along the way. Sometimes women carry 30-foot long scroll that symbolically eases the passage of the dead to the afterlife. They also carry unlit torches that represent illumination for the journey.
Frances Fitzgerald. wrote in Smithsonian: "Six men rolled an ornate hearse with a double roof turned up, pagoda-style, at the corners. A middle-aged man, apparently the deceased’s eldest son, walked backward in front of it in filial deference. When the procession reached the cemetery, incense sticks were lit, prayers were said and the family wailed as the coffin was lowered into the ground."
Vietnamese Burial and Burial Customs
Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN wrote: "At the gravesite, another service was held. The coffin was lowered into the grave and buried. Emotions, which had calmed during the service, rose again. Here was yet another chance for mourners to say goodbye, and another outpouring of grief occurred. Most guests left shortly after the burial to return to uncle's home for the feast. [Source: Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN, University of Washington, December 1, 2000 ^^]
"The closest friends and relatives remained with the family for a quiet time of prayer and contemplation. Just before leaving the gravesite, the family again became very emotional. My aunt, cousins, and the older grandchildren sobbed bitterly and were reluctant to leave the gravesite. This would be the first time since uncle was dying that they left his side. They all said goodbye for the last time. ^^
"Before leaving the cemetery, they burned incense and paid their respects at the graves nearby: all our great-grandparents', grandparents', aunts', uncles' and cousins'. As they went from grave to grave, they felt more at peace with the thought that uncle would be in good company, so to speak." ^^
After a Vietnamese Funeral
Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN wrote: "Back at home, a feast prepared by relatives and neighbors was served. The whole community; family, relatives, friends and neighbors, got together and renewed ties. From the moment of imminent death until the end of the funeral, key relatives and friends stayed at the home and helped organize everything; from cooking and preparing garb to making arrangements. My aunt was consulted on important decisions. [Source: Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN, University of Washington, December 1, 2000 ^^]
"By the time the funeral was over, family members were physically and emotionally spent. But they had ample opportunities to grieve privately during the vigil and publicly with other loved ones. Now they were all "grieved out." They needed some time to themselves. Three days after the funeral, the support and intense grieving that they needed returned. The closest relatives and family went back to the cemetery to bring flowers and incense to the gravesite, say more prayers, and clean up the site. We wept and cried and talked to uncle in private. ^^
"Then, for the next 49 days, the family held a memorial service every seven days. Again, they shared meals with close friends and relatives and reminisced about events of uncle's passing as well as everything else in their lives. The next gathering occurred 51 days later, on the 100th day after death, then 265 days later, on the first anniversary of the death; and finally a whole year later. Each memorial forced the family to burden others with their sorrow" so that they could grieve fully. Each successive memorial was held a little less frequently as the family became more able to resume some form of ordinary routine. After the first year, there was the first annual anniversary of the death. " ^^
Vietnamese Mourning Period
The Vietnamese will have 49 days, or seven weeks, of mourning following a death. At home, incense was burned on the altar every day to remember and respect uncle. In the first hundred days after the death, food was presented on the altar before each meal. After that, on every special occasion, the ritual of sharing food is repeated: the family invites uncle to enjoy the food that they eat to show he is still a part of their lives. [Source: Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN, University of Washington, December 1, 2000 ^^]
These are the usual rituals used to honor the dead ancestors. The frequency of the rituals in the first 100 days forced the family to think of and treat uncle as a dead ancestor. It reminded the family that the transition of uncle from being among us to residing with dead ancestors was complete. It reinforced a new social order and also provided opportunities for more private grieving, since inevitably, when offering food to uncle's spirit, the family remembered what he liked or did not like while living. There were often conversations with uncle, who was symbolized by his photograph on the altar, on these occasions. ^^
After the funeral, family members wore a small piece of black or white fabric on their clothes everyday to signify that they were in mourning. They wore this for two years. At every memorial service, my aunt, cousins, and their children wore the mourning clothes that they wore at the funeral. On the second anniversary, these clothes would be burned to signify that the mourning period was over. ^^
During the mourning period, the bereaved, depending on their relationship to the deceased, are prohibited from marrying or wearing brightly colored clothing. The length of the mourning period depends on the relationship between the deceased and the bereaved. Generally, it is two years for immediate family members. When this formal mourning period is over, it is permissible for the bereaved to plan major life changes such as marriage. The deceased's memory is not erased and the family still observes the anniversary of the death each year. But life goes on. The transition period for the bereaved has ended. The burning of mourning clothes signifies the incorporation of the bereaved into the normal course of life. ^^
Vietnamese Grieving Process
Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN wrote: "The socially prescribed rituals from the time of death until the end of the mourning period are designed to provide a structure for the grief process. To the bereaved, the image of the deceased as part of this world is still fresh in their minds and recedes itself into another world only gradually. In the first three to five days after death, before the funeral takes place, the bereaved grieve in waves; at times deeply and intensely, with quiet moments to work through their feelings in private and to reconnect and receive social support from family, friends, and the community. Each successive wave of deep public grieving takes the deceased a little farther away from the living; from lying as if a asleep on a cot among family, to being put away in a closed coffin- a symbol of the deceased, to being buried under ground, separated from the family by layers of dirt, and finally, being left behind in the graveyard among the dead. The last stage, leaving the deceased in company of the ancestors, creates a sense of continuity, a feeling that the deceased is actually going somewhere to be among other loved ones. [Source: Dieu-Hien T. Hoang, RN, University of Washington, December 1, 2000 ^^]
"For Vietnamese, arranging a proper funeral for a loved one is one of the most filial things a person can do (Pha.m Công Son, 1996). In reality, a culturally proper funeral is more than an empty gesture to the dead, it helps the living to grieve and go on with life. The elaborate details of death rituals require extensive and intensive involvement of the family social network and the whole community. These rituals communicate the social values of communal responsibilities. ^^
"However one may choose to interpret death rituals, they constitute a dramatization of a worldly event, death, in the presence of and in reference to the sacred. They formalize a naturally occurring transition from life to death, providing a structure which facilitates the adaptation of the bereaved, whether this means accepting the permanent departure of a loved one from this life, or restoring the balance upset by the death. In a concrete sense, death rituals can also recreate social order by communicating, through the rules of who does what in the rituals, who is now to take the place of the deceased. Death rituals also serve as tools for humankind to transform death from a defeat of life to a stepping stone to another, perhaps better, place, and thus create a continuity beyond death itself. Finally, death rituals give the bereaved one last opportunity to make amends and say "I love you" and "goodbye." ^^
Honoring the Dead in Vietnam
Care for the dead after the funeral is given a high priority. If the dead are not properly honored, it is widely believed, they may cause trouble for negligent family members. A series of rituals elevates the dead to the status of an ancestor. Ancestors are invited to visit the family for certain festivals and informed of events regarding the living.
Vietnamese honor their ancestors by burning incense and placing offerings on graves and household shrines, including food, fake money, booze and smokes that are thought to provide spiritual sustenance in the afterlife. Tradition also dictates that families must visit loved ones' graves before death anniversaries and Tet, the Vietnamese lunar new year. [Source: Associated Press]
On special days or holidays family members pile into a van and leave flowers and light incense at the graves of deceased family members. Vietnamese light incense and burn paper money, paper copies of clothes, televisions, electric fans, nice houses, to honor the dead during a funeral and on holidays honoring dead ancestors. One shopkeeper told National Geographic, "What the living have the dead also need. This isn’t superstition. It’s about faithfulness and showing serious feeling o our ancestors."
Family altars contain photographs of deceased loves ones and boxes with mementos and a biography of each deceased family member.
See Festivals, Ancestor Worship
Fancy Graves and High-Tech Offerings for the Dead in Vietnam
In 2003, the BBC reported: "Vietnam's prime minister has asked the relevant authorities to ensure that funerals and other private celebrations are not too flamboyant, according to the country's state media. The Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper reported Prime Minister Phan Van Khai as saying that any violations would be dealt with severely and immediately. In 2002, Mr Khai told state employees to set an example to the rest of the population by toning down their family weddings and funerals. Correspondents say the warnings have not been heeded, prompting this new threat of punishment from Mr Khai. According to Cong An Nhan Dan, Mr Khai wrote to all ministries, state agencies and local governments last week asking them to increase their efforts to ensure family events are kept simple affairs. "It is necessary to criticise and severely deal with violations right away and determinedly," the paper added.[Source: BBC News, October 7, 2003]
Reporting from Ky Son, Mike Ives of Associated Press wrote: "This is where Vietnam's rising middle class is dying to flaunt its bling: a new cemetery at the end of a golden-gated "Highway to Eternity" where relatives can order graveside offerings of Hennessy online. The Lac Hong Vien Cemetery is bringing in tomb shoppers by the busload through its Las Vegas-style marquee to choose from XL, state-of-the-art resting places for themselves and their dearly departed. Some 120,000 graves are scheduled to be built on terraced hillsides over the next four years."This land has good feng shui," said Bui Mai Phuong, a 53-year-old accountant for a state-owned company who surveyed the grounds during a recent bus tour for two dozen Hanoi residents. She was considering investing 240 million dong ($11,430) — or about a decade's earnings for the average Vietnamese — for a 320 square foot (30 square meter) plot. "We have to take care of our parents spiritually," Phuong said. [Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press, November 22, 2011 |-|]
"The graveyard's online ancestor worship service is the first of its kind in Vietnam. Busy relatives can purchase afterlife gifts — from flowers to boiled chickens to expensive cognac — by the mouse click. Cemetery staff bring the items to the tombs and send videos or photos of the display by email. The posh new grounds highlight some of the contrasts emerging across the predominantly Buddhist country. It's a place where ancient traditions meet a frenetic consumer culture stoked by one of Asia's fastest growing economies. |-|
"The clash is most sharply defined in the capital Hanoi and the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, where even the status-crazed nouveau riche, who race out to buy flat-screen TVs and imported luxury cars, still mark time by the Vietnamese lunar calendar and burn incense for their ancestors at weathered alley pagodas. The 98-hectare cemetery, which sits about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Hanoi in northern Hoa Binh Province, hopes to cash in on the trend by selling upscale burial plots it claims will connote high status beyond the grave." |-|
"The trendy cemetery's online service gives Vietnamese living elsewhere in the country or even overseas a way to participate in traditional rituals with a laptop and a MasterCard. "This service is very convenient," said To Hoai Dung, 29, a Hanoi construction engineer who has ordered fruit, flowers, and homemade liquor online for his grandfather. "It cannot replace traditional worshipping, but it helps us to feel comfortable." |-|
"Death here doesn't come cheap. At 8 million dong ($400) per square meter, this burial land retails for nearly four times the going rate of housing property in nearby towns. One family spent 1.5 billion dong ($71,500) for a 200-square-meter (2,000-square-foot) plot, enough space to bury several generations with manicured grass ringed by orchids and white picket fences. In addition, tombstones sell for up to 1 billion dong (US$48,000). |-|
"Despite its flashy website, the cemetery is still a work in progress that's anything but peaceful. It resembles a dusty strip mine with dump trucks rattling down the newly paved "Highway to Eternity" as jackhammers pummel the bare, terraced hillsides. Tran Tuan Anh, deputy manager of the private company running the graveyard, says about 10,000 sites have already been reserved. But so far only 30 bodies have been buried, with a mere handful of relatives using the online ancestor worship service. |-|
"The drag-and-drop convenience may appeal most to Vietnam's tech savvy youth. Phuong, whose parents are pushing 90, said she understands how online ancestor worship may appeal to twentysomethings. "The best thing would be for our children to visit our graves," she said. "But if they're too busy, we have to accept that." But Finance Ministry worker Nguyen Le Hoa, 38, who also joined the recent tomb-shopping tour, said using the Internet to virtually lay offerings at ancestors' graves may work for some, but definitely not for those who believe tradition still trumps modernity. "In my family?" said Hoa. "That would not be OK." |-|
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated May 2014