I Heard the Owl Call My Name

by Margaret Craven

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How did the people in Kingcome bury their dead?

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The Kwakiutl people in Kingcome, British Colombia, did not traditionally bury their dead at all. In fact, they believed that burying people underground, as Europeans do, would prevent the spirit of that person from ever being reincarnated as a person; it would instead be trapped in the body of an earth-dwelling creature, such as a worm or beetle.

Instead of burials, the funerary practices of the Kingcome people involved a complex ritual wherein the dead person's body would be put into a coffin-like box, but the box would not be closed, as this would prevent the spirit from escaping. The hands and face of the dead person were then painted red and the box was suspended from treetops until it was eaten by birds. This type of death ritual is found in many countries all over the world.

A later development of this ritual was for the bodies to be placed in wooden boxes, but the people were still reluctant to put these boxes underground, for the reasons stated above. Only when they were compelled to do so by the colonial occupiers did the people begin to bury their dead under the ground.

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