Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Watercolour drawing of the face of a man to show the appearance caused by very rapid post-mortem decomposition. It was made thirty-six hours after death during the hot weather of the summer of 1893

Watercolour drawing of the face and chest of a man to show the appearance caused by rapid post-mortem decomposition.

Japanese death and decay of a lady of the court

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Just hanging out

The hanging coffins of the Bo People 

The Bo People known as ‘Sons of the Cliffs’ made coffins, which are stowed in clefts on the vertical rock faces of Southern China.  It is mysterious as to how the heavy coffins were deposited on such steep, inhospitable cliffs. Some of those are coffins are placed on wooden beams projecting out from rock, others are on the rocks themselves. Still others are merely placed in caves, some are suspended on wooden stakes above the ground or stuck into the cliff face.  

They were also called Tu Tian, "Subjugators of the Sky," because it was apparently their perverse nature to "struggle against heaven." In the summer when it was hot, they wore leather coats and warmed themselves by the fire; in the winter, they wore a single sweat garment and carried big fans in their hands.  It is thought that the hanging coffins could prevent bodies from being taken by beasts and also bless the soul eternally.

Why the Bo lived this way and interred their dead on the sides of cliffs remain a mystery; only intermittent mention of them exists in Chinese history, and they eventually disappeared without a trace.

In the Philippines on the Cliffs of Sagada the elderly make their own coffins from hollowed out logs. The body is smoked to preserve for the five day pre-burial feast before being fitted into the tight space of the coffin which often requires breaking the deceased’s bones – after they have been placed in the coffin they are then bought to the mountainside to join their ancestors either suspended on the cliff or placed in a cave.

Don't forget your iPhone!

Paper slaves to take to the afterlife

Since cremation is traditionally uncommon, the burial of the dead is a matter taken very seriously in Chinese society. Improper funeral arrangements can wreak ill fortune and disaster on the family of the deceased.

Chinese funeral rites and burial customs are determined by the age of the deceased cause of death, status and position in society, and marital status. All who die will automatically enter the underworld of Diyu to be judged before either being sent to heaven, to be punished in the underworld, or to be reincarnated. The word ‘hell’ is not to be compared with the western understanding of the word, but rather as ‘Chinese afterlife in general’, a more neutral platform.

Paper objects, such as clothing, jewellery, mobile phones, accessories, cars, lavish models of paper villas with manicured gardens, home interiors, medicine, fancy foods and liquors, cosmetics and others, should be extravagant, luxurious and will most likely be showing a high end brand name of an earthly company; simply speaking: the more expensive- the better. The ancestors will be given all the luxuries that were eluded in life. You can buy banknotes showing the name ‘Bank of Universal’, ‘Bank of Heaven’ or even ‘Bank of Paradise’. Ancestor worship is a religious practice based on the belief that deceased family members have a continued existence, take an interest in the affairs of the world, and possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living.

Preparation for a funeral often begins before a death has occurred. When a person is on his/her deathbed, a coffin will often have already been ordered by the family. A traditional Chinese coffin is rectangular with three 'humps', although it more common in modern times for a western style coffin to be used. The coffin is provided by an undertaker who oversees all funeral rites.

During the wake, the family does not wear jewelry or red clothing (red is the color of happiness). Traditionally, children and grandchildren of the deceased did not cut their hair for 49 days after the death, but this custom is now usually only observed by older generations. It is customary for blood relatives and daughters-in-law to wail and cry during mourning as a sign of respect and loyalty to the deceased. The cries are particularly loud if the deceased has left a large fortune.

During the wake there is usually a group of people gambling in the front courtyard of the deceased's house because the corpse must be "guarded," and gambling helps the guards stay awake during their vigil. This custom also helps to lessen the grief of the participants.

The Chinese believe that seven days after the death of a family member the soul of the departed will return to his/her home. A red plaque with a suitable inscription may be placed outside the house at this time to ensure that the soul does not get lost.  On the day of the return of the soul, family members are expected to remain in their rooms. Flour or talcum powder may be dusted on the floor of the entrance hall of the home to detect the visit.

Paper horse and cart

Paper Iphones, Ipads and computers.


Willem De Kooning Excavation  1950

Monday, October 01, 2012