Photo credit: Lao Dong (Labor) Newspaper
Vietnamese families continue to practice the ancient custom of digging up, washing and reburying the remains of their relatives three years after they are initially interred.
The tradition is more popular in the north, but is observed by families throughout Vietnam.
Three years after a burial, the bereaved family traditionally hires a team of gravediggers to exhume, wash and arrange the bones of the deceased in a smaller casket for a final burial in another location.
Bereaved relatives practice this customs because they want the dead to be moved to “cleaner” places. They don’t want the flesh and bones of their kin to be soaked too long in dirty water (especially in flooded graveyards) and weighed down by rotting coffins.
The work is usually done in the dark, at a time selected by a fortune teller. Fortune tellers believe dead people exist in the world of the night and prefer these events to occur on winter nights.
The cold provides the most suitable environment to exhume decaying bodies.
In modern times, with the increased use of preservatives and other chemicals, it takes bodies longer to decay. There are some cases in which the flesh of the dead has persisted for a decade after burial.
As such, the gravedigger's job has become increasingly difficult and harmful to their health. They face higher risks of skin and respiratory disease due to frequent contact with decaying corpses.
Although this custom is growing less popular, many families still believe it to be an important expression of filial piety.
An exhumation ceremony also provides families a chance to gather in their hometown.