In Western cultures one is sure to find a crudite among the funeral food offerings however, in other cultures raw vegetables have more fascinating uses in death rituals and observances.
In Brazil, when a member of the Kaingang tribe dies they believe that the deceased is transformed into an evil “ghost soul” who will haunt the village and bring misfortune immediately following death. The “ghost soul” searches among the villagers for members of his or her own family, especially if they left a spouse behind. The spouse of the deceased is temporarily cast out of the tribe in hopes that the ghost will realize there is nothing left for him in his past life and depart to the spirit world. As part of a purification ritual the spouse must eat only raw vegetables and honey during this period.
It is only when the corpse of the deceased has been cremated, buried and the site covered with a certain type of fern that grows locally, believed to possess magic powers and is greatly feared by the ghosts, that the spouse may return home.
In Mexico, during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), one of the many culinary traditions observed during this time is the consumption of raw root vegetables such as carrots and jicama. These particular vegetables which grow underneath the ground, are eaten not only in remembrance of the dead who are also buried under the earth, but their bodies have also nourished the soil in which the vegetables grow. By consuming the vegetables we are symbolically making our ancestors a part of us again.
Certainly the most whimsical use of raw vegetables comes to us from Japan, during Obon – an observance which is in many ways similar to that of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos or All Soul’s Day. During the Obon festival days it is believed that the souls of the departed return to visit their living relatives. Animal figures, typically cows and horses fashioned from vegetables are created. It is believed that the spirits of the dead ride the animals between the worlds of the living and the dead.
On the first day of Obon the animals are typically placed outside the front door or gate of the home along with burning incense. The smoke from the burning incense is intended to help the spirits to find their way home. The following day the animals are taken indoors, placed on an altar and offered ceremonial food. When the final day of Obon comes the animals are taken to the river and left on a bank for their ride home to the spirit world.
Harold Schechter, The Whole Death Catalog: A Lively Guide to the Bitter End, 2009
Photo of vegetable cat from Family Living Magazine
Photo of Mexican street vendors from Sarah Elizabeth Troop
Photo of Obon figures from jcwin228