December 6, 2007 / 8:37 AM / 12 years ago

Wailers for hire to mourn the dead in Taiwan

TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - Across the world, the wealthy have chauffeurs to shuttle them around, advisers to manage their money and in Taiwan, professionals to help mourn their dead.

Re-enacting grief-stricken daughters, among the most emotive elements of a traditional funeral, professional mourners offer themselves for T$2,000 ($60) to T$3,000 per half day of singing, crying and crawling on the ground.

The phenomenon, which appears to date back to ancient Greek times, is not unique to Taiwan, where mourners for hire emerged in the 1970s largely to give funerals the somber atmosphere that shows the appropriate respect to deceased elders.

Mourner Liu Chun-ling, 25, says she imagines herself as a real member of the grieving family to get the tears flowing.

“At the moment it starts, I become a mourning daughter immediately,” she said. “People with a reserved nature may refrain from crying in front of others, so they invite me to guide their emotion, and help them let out all the grief.”

The ritual starts with mourners lining up outside a funeral parlor and then crawling into the service hall, symbolizing daughters who have rushed back from their husbands’ families on hearing about a parent’s death.

They later prostrate themselves in front of the coffin before saying a final farewell.

No one knows how many people hire themselves out as mourners, but most also have full-time jobs, said Lin Mao-hsian, a Taiwan literature professor at Providence University in Taichung.

The tradition will die in a few decades because Taiwan families no longer want such elaborate funerals, Lin said. Some cities have also banned their activity to cut noise pollution.

“Taiwan people used to value a loud and active atmosphere at funerals, but now that society has changed, not so many people are needed,” Lin said. “This tradition will disappear.”

Additional reporting by Christine Lu; editing by Miral Fahmy

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