15 April 2008

Food for wolves and vultures

No, I still haven’t finished Sven Anders Hedin’s My Life as an Explorer (1925) (previous posts about that book are here and here and here).

During Hedin’s expedition in Tibet in 1901, one of the Moslem men in his caravan died. After a night of vigil, the man was buried, prayers were recited at his grave and his belongings burned. Hedin contrasts these funerary customs with the attitudes of the locals who were Buddhists.

During the funeral, the Tibetans observed us from a little distance. Afterwards they expressed their surprise at the amount of trouble we had taken with a dead man. “It would be simpler to throw the body to the wolves,” they said.
Some time later, Hedin experienced firsthand that the Tibetans indeed practiced what they preached.
During our absence, another camel had succumbed, and one of our Tibetans had died. On the way to the camp we passed his abandoned corpse, already disfigured by birds of prey.
That’s what I would call recycling one’s body for the good of nature. And why not?


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