Across central China in the remote valleys to the south of
the Yangtze River, you will find the most unique burial places. The hanging coffins
are suspended so high that they are often barely visible from the ground below.
They have been discovered in crevices of the cliff face, anchored on limestone
rock about 30 meters high (almost 100 feet), balanced on wooden cantilevered
stakes, or stacked in man-made caves 300 feet up in Guizhou province, a
landlocked, mountainous province in central south China.
This ‘burial’ practice was followed by Yao and Miao minorities in the region. It is believed that the higher the coffins were placed, and therefore closer to Heaven, the greater the respect of the deceased. The suspension of the coffins slowed down decomposition of the body which ensured afterlife and immortality of the spirit; and on a more practical aspect it prevented animals from poaching the bodies and kept land free to farm.
The practice of hanging coffins can also be found in the Philippines,
most famously in Sagada.
Another curiosity of the Miao ethnic group is the belief in a supernatural power around them that decides their fate. The Miao worship tree spirits and equate human life cycles with those of trees. Firs are the only wood used for burial and only firs over 60 years old are large enough. Therefore, villagers plant trees for themselves and their descendants every year. New parents plant a fir sapling from which their children’s future coffin will be carved.
Following the burial another young tree is transplanted atop the grave site – this is the only marker for the deceased – transforming what should be a cemetery into a forest of trees.
This graveyard located in Singapore is comprised of three separate burial grounds collectively known as Jalan Kubor Cemetery. Within the cemetery there are tombs, stone and wooden gravestones. Many graves are topped with coloured cloth – yellow denotes Royalty and green represents Islam.
The burial ground known as the Tombs of Malayan Princes on Victoria Street was reserved for the royal household of Sultan Hussein. There are many raised tombs denoting royal graves. It was also known as the Sultan’s Burial Ground although he is buried in Malacca, and in fact, anyone could be buried there which resulted in it being packed with graves.
The Indian Muslim Burial Ground surrounded by a wall is located at the junction of Victoria Street and Jalan Sultan. This plot of land was originally donated to the Indian Muslims residing in Kampong Glam for use as a burial ground. However, it became popular with Bugis and Banjar merchants. Inscriptions on stones are in Bugis script, Arabic, Chinese, English, Jawi and early forms of Malay.
Actual shell fragments left on gravestones in pioneer cemeteries represent the journey through death and rebirth. Shells that are not part of the gravestone were left there to signify that the deceased had not been forgotten.
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In localities near the sea, entire graves were covered with shells because this product was cheap and readily available.
Although not a common symbol the shell most often used is a scallop shell which represents the baptism of Christ. Many baptismal fonts are often built in the form of a scallop shell.
It is also a traditional symbol of the Crusades.
This large scallop shell was designed by the deceased, Ransom Cook, some years before his death.
The art form of a child cradled in a scallop shell was popular in North America during the 19th century. Sears, Roebuck and Company had a contract with a Vermont marble producer to sell the shell headstone by mail order.
The conch shell was revered by many cultures as a symbol of reincarnation and wisdom. In Buddhism, the shell’s call can awaken one from ignorance, in Chinese Buddhism it signifies a prosperous journey; and in Islam the shell represents hearing the divine word. People in the Bakongo area of Africa believe that the shell encloses the soul (Pagans also held this same belief regarding the shell as a source of life.)
Lions are a symbol of bravery, courage, and strength and as such are often displayed as guardians against evil spirits.
A lion resting on his paws is a symbol of patience and endurance.
In Chinese culture, they are believed to have mythical power and are often erected in pairs with the female on the left and the male on the right. The male lion rests his right paw on a ball representing the flower of life, and has his mouth open representing the sacred word OM which is said during meditation. The female lion representing nurture restrains a cub.
In the Buddhist faith, lion-like creatures called Shinto are considered divine animals of nobleness and dignity, which can protect the Truth and deter evil. Also erected in pairs, one has the mouth open, the other closed.
If asked to name the color of death and mourning, Europeans will choose black; whereas Asians and many other races will pick white.
Black signifies darkness and the absence of light. However, you will often find white tombstones in European cemeteries.
At the Mollendal graveyard in Bergen, Norway, a private company was hired by the municipality to maintain the cemetery. In 2013, a notice pinned to hundreds of headstones informed families of the deceased that maintenance fees were due. (The Norwegian municipal government covers the costs of maintenance and rental for 25 years, thereafter it falls upon the families to pay the annual fee.) After 6 months, the headstone was then covered with a locked black plastic bag with a further notice identifying that the stone will be removed unless payment is made for the upkeep of the grave. Failure to make payment results in removal of the headstone and the interred in order to reuse the plot.
White recalls the color of the bones and the paleness of the corpse. But here in this graveyard that is still no man’s land The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
To a whole generation that was butchered and damned.
White doves also appear as motifs in the European sepulchral arts.
Catholics and High-Church Anglicans recognize purple as the color of mourning. Priests wear purple or violet robes at funeral masses for the dead, recalling Christ’s passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Chinese tombstones often appear before the deceased has passed. Red lettering shows that the person named is still alive. When the person dies, the stone cutter repaints the letters in white.
Graffiti and vandalism seem to be a peculiarity of youth; can’t say I have ever seen or heard of a mature individual spray painting any form of public property. Not restricted to race, religion or country, it is a manifestation seen around the world.
Desecrated Jewish graves around the world have been painted with swastikas, and I won’t recognize that horrendous action with a photo.
In the Old Calton Burial Ground in Edinburgh, Scotland, graffiti perhaps identifies the painter as a psycho.
Graffiti on Jim Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetry, Paris, France. Visitors seem to think they have more to say than he did.
A grave in Glasgow Necropolis, Scotland, claims there is no God.
In Singapore a despondent has inscribed a message of love.
In the Sydney township of Castlereagh, Australia there is an isolated graveyard which provides graffiti opportunism. The First Fleet pioneers do not deserve such disrespect.
In Trondheim Norway, Jewish gravestones have been attacked with flamboyant pink paint.
Graffiti on the gravestone of New Zealand’s first Governor William Hobson, at the Symonds Street cemetery in Auckland shows the disillusion of the vandal. The treaty which was signed in 1840 by representatives of the British government and various Māori ownership chiefs, recognised Māori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave Māori the rights of British subjects.
In St. Mary’s Cemetery, Bismarck, North Dakota, USA, a devil worshipper has desecrated a large memorial stone.
Drunk and bored teenagers without an artistic bent often resort to plain vandalism by toppling gravestones and knocking over or breaking statues
Desecration of physical memorials is not the only type of vandalism. Illegally drinking alcohol and doing drugs leaves the area littered with empty bottles and discarded needles.
It’s sad and disgraceful that the memory of departed loved ones are so often vandalized and desecrated. The isolation and loneliness of cemeteries can leave visitors feeling unsafe which creates a catch 22 situation.
An inscription on a grave in Milton, Ontario, Canada suggests: ‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.’ I would suggest that the last enemy is vandalism. Would vandals be so eager to kick over the gravestone of their own mother or grandfather?
It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew,
Where danger is doubled and pleasures are few,
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines
It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine. ~Merle Travis~
On 21 October 1966 in the Welsh village of Aberfan people were going about their business until a sudden thunderous noise alerted them to the collapse of the colliery tip caused by a build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale. Over 40,000 cubic metres of debris suddenly slid downhill and engulfed the Pantglas Junior School and about 20 houses in the village before coming to rest.
Rescue efforts, which were hampered by more debris coming down the mountain, lasted for a week.The catastrophe claimed the lives of 116 children and 28 adults who died from impact or suffocation. The official inquiry blamed the National Coal Board for extreme negligence, and parliament passed new legislation about public safety in relation to mines and quarries.
Stone memorials were erected in Aberfan Cemetery for the majority of the victims after the disaster.
The worst coal mining disaster in history occurred on 26 April 1942 in the coal mine, located near Benxi in the Liaoning province of China. It was caused by a mixture of gas and coal dust which created a fatal explosion underground shooting fire out of the mine shaft entrance. To deprive the fire of oxygen, the ventilation system was shut off and the pit head was sealed. An electric fence was erected around the pit to prevent relatives of the miners from entering. The catastrophe claimed 1,549 lives. It took workers ten days to remove all the corpses and rubble from the shaft. The dead were buried in a mass grave nearby. Later, the Japanese erected a monument to the dead which stated the number of dead to be 1327.
The second deadliest coal mining disaster in history occurred in France. The catastrophe occurred on 10 March 1906 due to a massive explosion sparked by an underground fire in one of the pits of the Courrieres Colliery.
The underground fire was detected the day before the explosion and ground openings were closed to starve the fire of oxygen. The following morning a huge underground explosion caused a blast on the surface that killed 1,099 comprised of miners as well as people on the surface.
The disaster led to strikes demonstrating against the mining company who continued to operate when the fire had been discovered, and the managers who stop searching for survivors after only three days.
Fraterville, TN, USA
On May 19, 1902 at 7:30am near Fraterville, Tennessee, an oil lamp sparked a methane explosion which killed 216 men (until that point there had been a total of 219 men in the town.) Hundreds of women were widowed, and approximately a thousand children were left fatherless.
A large monument containing the names of 184 identified miners killed in the explosion is encircled by concentric circles of 89 graves. It is known as the Fraterville Miners’ Circle and is located at Leach Cemetery in the nearby town of Coal Creek.
The bodies of 30 unidentified miners were buried in a mass grave not far from the mine. It is marked with a historical plaque on Slatestone Road in Briceville.
Route 116 which connects Fraterville and Briceville has been renamed “Fraterville Miners Memorial Highway” in honor of the victims of the mine explosion.
Madeley, Shropshire, England
Nine miners were killed when the chain attached to the winding apparatus gave away during their ascension from the Lane Pit. They died at the end of their shift on 27 September 1864. Four of the dead were boys under the age of 16.
Monongah, WV, USA
The Monongah Coal Mine Disaster which occurred on 6 December 1907 was caused by a firedamp and coal dust explosion in two mines at the Monogah mine facility operated by Fairmont Coal Company. The explosion devastated the ventilation system, boiler-house, fan and the openings of an additional mine. Italian immigrants were the majority of the 362 victims.
Durham, Northumberland, England
A memorial to Thomas Hepburn, miners’ champion and trade union leader. He worked as a minor from the age of 8 and later intiated the first great union of Northern Miners in 1831 and conducted the strike of 1832. With great forbearance and ability his life was spent in advocating shorter hours of labour and extended education for miners.
Plymouth, PA, USA
On September 6, 1869, a massive fire at the Avondale Colliery started when the wooden lining of the mine shaft caught fire and ignited the coal processing plant built directly overhead. The fire trapped and suffocated 108 of the workers. Two rescuers also died bringing the death toll to 110.
Pretoria, Lancashire, England
The Hulton Colliery, known locally as Pretoria Pit, employed 2500 local men and boys, many from the same family. The day before the disaster occurred, a large fall of roof caused a build-up of gas and miners had complained of gas in the mine and also sparking on a conveyor switch.
On 21st of December 1910, 900 men clocked on for the morning shift. A tremendous explosion that travelled a mile underground killed 344 men and boys who were comprised of miners and colliery employees.
Wakefield, Nottinghamshire, England
A national pit strike in 1984 drew miners from around the country to the picket lines. David Jones, a Wakefield miner, was picketing at Ollerton colliery when he was hit by a brick on March 15th 1984. He died from chest injuries several hours later.
Whitesville, WV, USA
The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster occurred on April 5, 2010 as a result of a high methane levels causing a coal dust explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia. 29 men were killed.
The Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial in Whitesville, WV which was dedicated in 2012 consists of a 48-foot black granite monument with life-size etched silhouettes of twenty-nine miners. The names of all twenty-nine miners killed and the two survivors are listed on the reverse side of the monument which also gives a brief summary of the coal industry in West Virginia. The memorial also includes a bronze sculpture and plaque recognizing the local first responders and mine rescue teams from West Virginia and neighboring states that aided in recovery efforts.
A miner stood at the Golden Gate His head was bent and low. He meekly asked the man of fate The way that he should go. “What have you done,” Saint Peter said, “To gain admission here?” “I merely mined for coal,” he said, “For many and many a year.” St. Peter opened wide the gate, And softly tolled the bell. “Come and choose your harp,” he said “You’ve had your share of hell.”