The Circle of Life

Comprehension Activities


New Orleans jazz funeral procession: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtkrPDRYuyA 
A guide to Obon: https://savvytokyo.com/obon-the-japanese-festival-of-the-dead/

Ghana’s “Fantasy coffins”: https://theworld.org/stories/2022-02-18/ghana-s-fantasy-coffins-fulfilling-burial-dreams-one-coffin-time

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sSawpU81cI



In New Orleans, funerals involve a massive street party with music… in South Korea, people might be turned into jewelry… and in Japan, the dead have their favourite foods served to them every August. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to The Circle of Life —the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.

And I’m Bryce Corbett.

Now Bryce, doing a shortcut on how we remember those who have died might seem a bit weird. But we can learn a lot about how a culture celebrates and commemorates – which means remembers and shows respect for – their loved ones when they die. For example, recently on Squiz Kids Today, you talked about how scientists had recently discovered that the ashes of Ancient Mayan rulers would be mixed with rubber, and turned into balls for the game of pelota – so they could continue to serve their people! (Serve… a ball game… get it?)

Today, we’ll take you through WHY we are doing this shortcut; WHAT happens when you die; but mostly we’ll spend most of the pod looking at HOW different cultures celebrate their loved ones when they pass away.

Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!

Now Amanda, when we hear about death in the news, it’s usually because someone famous has died at the end of their long life; or someone has died tragically, like in a war.

That’s exactly right. But every day, about 36,000 people on our planet die. And of course, the huge majority of them are neither famous, nor killed in a war. They’re just everyday people who have quite simply come to the end of their lifespan. We know in our heads, of course, that eventually, every living thing will die.

But in our hearts, it’s much harder to come to terms with—and that’s why funerals and celebrations of the dead are so important. They help us process it. Especially because nowadays, death isn’t something that we see very much of.

That’s true. Back in the Victorian era – in the 1800s – people tended not to go to hospitals. If they were sick, and they could afford it, a doctor came to them at home. And so most people also died at home. It was really common for a family, including kids, to sit around the bed of someone who was dying, and see them pass away.

But that doesn’t mean Victorians weren’t sad when someone died. In fact, Queen Victoria herself was so devastated when her husband Albert died that she wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life- that’s m-o-U-r-n-i-n-g, which is what you do when you are grieving someone’s death. Now, Amanda, Queen Victoria was Christian, so presumably she believed that she and Albert would be reunited in heaven. WHAT does happen when someone dies?

Medically, Bryce, death means that either your heart stops beating and you stop breathing; or your brain stops functioning completely. But what happens after THAT? Well, some people have very strong beliefs – and their beliefs aren’t all the same. Other people don’t know for sure, but they have ideas and questions. If you’re Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, then you believe that people who die can go to heaven.

Hindus, on the other hand, believe that when your body dies, your soul leaves your body and goes into a new one – and how good you’ve been as a person while you’re alive will decide what form your new, after-life will take. It could be a plant, an animal, or another human.

Buddhists have something similar – good actions will result in a better rebirth, and the goal is to eventually become so good that you escape this cycle of life and death and reach Nirvana, which is a state of freedom from suffering…

not the grunge band popular in the 1990s.

And I think that’s something that all religions have in common – they believe that what happens after you die is influenced by how you behave while you’re alive. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty nice thing to agree on… that we should live our lives trying to be as good as possible.

You may want to pause the podcast to have a conversation about what you think happens when we die – but remember to be kind and respectful about each others’ beliefs. Or, you can keep listening as we get into – HOW different cultures all around the world celebrate their loved ones when they die.

Okay, Bryce, the Squiz Kids Superfast Supersonic Jetliner is going to get a speed workout today. I’ve put links in the episode notes to pictures of a lot of our destinations… First, we’re landing in Ghana, Africa, where many people like to be buried in a coffin that represents something they loved in life. A businessman had a coffin shaped like a Mercedes Benz car; a fisherman had one shaped like a brightly colored fish!

Now we’re off to New Orleans, which is the home of jazz music and something called a Jazz Funeral.

A band walks through the streets, accompanying the coffin and mourners. At the beginning, they play sorrowful music. But once the body is buried, they switch to loud, partying music. People start to dance and celebrate the life of the person who has died.

Next on our itinerary – Asia. First stop, the Philippines.

The Caviteño people of the Philippines are very close to nature. When they get sick, they go and choose the tree that they want to be buried in. In the forest, there are huge tree trunks with what look like little wooden doors on them. They’re strapped closed, but inside are the bodies of those who have died.

If we travel a little bit south to eastern Indonesia, we will find families saving up for water buffalo. Why?

The Toraja people believe that a loved one’s soul will go to the afterlife – kind of like heaven – after they die. BUT it has to be transported there on a water buffalo, which is then killed. Families save up – sometimes for years – to afford a water buffalo for the funeral. Until they do, the loved one’s body is kept safe, and they are referred to as “sick” or “asleep”.

Buffalo are also involved in a festival in Cambodia, which is on the same day each year, for everyone to remember their dead.

It’s called the festival of Pchum Ben. People visit their local temples to pray and make offerings to the dead… and afterwards, everyone celebrates with buffalo races and wrestling!

There’s also a festival for the dead in parts of Mexico and other Latin American countries, called Day of the Dead.

That’s right – if you’ve seen the movie Coco, you’ll know all about it! This is a really colourful, joyful celebration – people believe that their loved ones’ spirits will come to visit during this time, and they put out their favourite foods, candles, and photos of the person to help guide them back.

Similar celebrations are held in China, where it’s called the Hungry Ghost festival, and Japan, where it’s called Obon.

Obon has been celebrated by Japanese Buddhists for 500 years. A spot in the home is set up with the loved one’s favourite foods, and on the first day, a horse made from a cucumber and an ox made out of an eggplant are placed outside the family home’s door with some incense. These animals represent the journey to and from the spirit world. On the last day of Obon, the animals are taken to the river bank, and left to carry the ancestors away until the next August.

Now Amanda, our final stop is in South Korea, where cremation – the burning of a dead body – has become extremely popular. Why’s that?

The South Korean government made a law in 2000 that graves had to be removed after sixty years, because there simply wasn’t enough space left for them. So most people are opting to cremate a loved one’s body instead. Some keep the ashes in a safe place, but others are getting more creative, compressing the ashes into colored cremation beads to display in the home. It’s even possible to include a loved one’s ashes in a manufactured diamond!

This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…

1. Which Queen of England wore only black after her husband died? ”
2. Toraja people in eastern Indonesia save up to have what kind of animal for a funeral?
3. The Caviteño people of the Philippines want to be close to nature when they die, so they’re buried in…