Last October, Austin’s managing director Claire Austin, travelled to Vietnam to work on a community project to help build a dam in Hanoi. While taking a break from mixing concrete and moving rocks she had a look around the local villages and came across some wooden coffins. When she asked about them, she was told that families handcraft their own coffins and store them under their house until they are needed.
In Vietnam, after someone has passed away the body is kept at the house for three days so people have time to say their final goodbyes. It’s common for gifts such as grains of rice or – for wealthier families – gold coins to be placed in the mouth of the deceased. The funeral ceremony involves a big feast and musicians playing traditional music. As for the burial, to avoid bad luck the body is laid to rest according to the position of the sun.
While chatting about the coffins, Claire was interested to learn that three years after burial, the body is exhumed so that the bones can be cleaned. This may be done by a special gravedigger, who digs up the bones and carefully washes them while relatives chant Buddhist prayers and burn incense. Once the bones have been cleaned they are placed in a small casket in an order that resembles the human skeleton then re-buried. The Vietnamese do this because they believe that by now the soul will have passed onto the next life, and so am empty coffin is no longer needed.
For Claire, it was a fascinating insight into how different cultures have their own customs and rituals to deal with the death of a loved one.