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Burial rituals for everybody

By: Lauren Wilson, The Cairns Post March 27, 2002, Wednesday BODY:

  FAR Northerners from diverse religious backgrounds will soon find it easier to hold their own traditional funeral services after the development of multicultural funeral booklets.

Funeral director Aaron Burkin said a community consultation was held recently after Hmong community members approached the Cairns City Council because they had no venue to hold a traditional funeral service.

"The community consultation was to enable cultures to put their hand up and say 'this is what we want and this is how we do things'," he said.

"They were all receptive to putting together a booklet for each religion in a simplified format."

Mr Burkin, who performs non-traditional ceremonies, is working with the council on a booklet about the needs of different religions.

The booklets are being developed under the council's Local Area Multicultural Partnership program.

The program works closely with communities, local and state governments and other service providers to develop strategies that identify the needs and contributions of indigenous people, migrants, women, youth and disabled people in the community.

Each booklet will cover a religion's attitude towards death, acceptable medical procedures, dietary needs, correct handling of a body and burial practice.

The booklets will be made available to healthcare professionals, medical carers, police and other funeral directors.

Mr Burkin said 79 different religions were represented in the Cairns region and each had its own burial practices.

"The Maori tradition is to take the body back home overnight.

"They have a couple of hundred people over, music and food and it goes all night.

"Muslims need to be buried on the same day before sunset, which creates a bit of haste in getting the grave dug, especially if the person passes away at lunch time.

"We've got four or five hours to get certificates, bodies dressed in coffins and into the ground."

Mr Burkin said religious groups at the forum were concerned about certain traditions, which might be illegal.

"A wake afterwards, which involves wailing, becomes a police issue of noise control," he said.

"The book will educate the police or the person who lives next door to Buddhists or Hindus so they can understand what their requirements are."

Mr Burkin said the handling of the body was especially important for some religions.

"Only same sex Muslims can touch the deceased, otherwise you have to wear disposable gloves," he said.

Mr Burkin said he had encountered obstacles in trying to perform non-traditional ceremonies but these could be overcome with acceptable alternatives.

Traditional Japanese ceremonies require a shorter cremation because family members "pick the bones" and recreate in the urn the person from the feet up to symbolise that person.

"As funeral directors we make a special metal tray that the coffin goes on before being put into the cremator to cater for this," he said.

Mr Burkin said the booklet would also help preserve religions' traditional practices for younger generations.

"This is so we have some sort of record from the original people who are still here so the tradition can be passed on."