Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Kyrgyz funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Kazakh funeral traditions and Georgian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Religious and Death Beliefs
88% of Kyrgyzstan’s population identifies as Muslim. Most Kyrgyz Muslims identify as Sunni Muslim, with a few also identifying as Shia Muslim.
Their funeral traditions typically are a mixture of Islam and traditional customs. Kyrgyz Muslims bury the deceased according to Islam traditions. However, they don’t necessarily bury the body within 24 hours, like many Muslims. Instead, many families display the body for two to three days so loved ones can pay their respects
They also believe that spirits can help their living family members. They offer their ancestors’ spirits food, pray for them, and pour water on their graves so they’re not thirsty. It’s also disrespectful to step on their loved one’s graves. Typically, the graves are on hilltops because they consider high places sacred.
Kyrgyz Funeral Customs
To prepare the body, they wash and wrap the deceased in a shroud (cloth) and sometimes also a felt rug. Then, they place the body in a yurt (tent) for the viewing and say a final prayer. A deceased male goes on the left side of the yurt while a deceased female goes on the right side.
A mullah reads from the Quran and performs the ceremony and prayers. Mourners wear traditional mourning clothing including hats for men and scarves for women. Afterward, the burial is usually at noon, and everyone says prayers together before burying the deceased. Then, there is a post-funeral meal with tea.
They sacrifice sheep in remembrance of the deceased every Thursday during the 40-day mourning period and have a large feast on the 40th day. For the feast, they slaughter a cow or horse. They also have a feast on the one-year anniversary of the death.