'To Honor the Dead'
First, remove the head. Leave the body for the pile.Shikei is the practice of taking the skull of the recently deceased and decorating them with engravings, painted dyes, and more outlandish modifications. The higher the status of the dead, the more impressive the embellishments become with horns, gemstones, great tusks and metal. Through this, the people of Araea honor their dead and display the might of those who came before them.
Preparing the BodyThe corpse is first moved to the Shikei's workshop. The head is severed and the body is either dumped in a mushroom grove or sold to cave-ranchers for food. The head is set into a pit filled with flesh-eating beetles and the remaining scraps of meat is carefully scraped off. Should the skull be damaged or deformed, the Shikei will attempt to file it down or patch it over.
Final Supper Once, it was more common for the family to cook and eat the corpse to honor the dead and take parts of them into their descendents. With industrial pollutant, radiation and more becoming increasingly common, necro-cannibalism such as this has fallen out of favor.When the head is completely bare, it is is dried and cleaned before the second stage begins.
The head is adorned with etchings that detail the life and triumphs of the deceased. The Shika use knives of steel or obsidian, but if the deceased was particularly poor, the Shikei will settle for painting the skull instead. Once the carving is complete, the skull is coated with an alchemical solution that hardens the bone. In some cases, the bone is removed all the way to the hollow of the skull in the same elaborate designs, and some cultures light candles or incense inside as part of the final funeral rite.
For more wealthy clients, the Shikei take the parts of animals and fuse them to the skull with bone-melting ointments. Horns, tusks, mandibles, and the parts of vicious predators are the most common and serve the purpose of giving the skull a more fearsome appearance. The same treatment that bind bone together can be used to soften it, allowing a skilled Shikei to mold bone like clay, creating ridges, horns or deformations.
The greater the beast, the greater the glory.The bones of other humans can be used decorate the skull, though this is rare and is usually meant as a message and warning. For the most wealthy and powerful, the Shikei adds gemstone or metal directly to the bone. There are integrated into the designs of the engravings and range in scale from rivets and studs, to plating most of the cranium in metal. The skulls of conqueror-queens and merchant kings can become worth more then their weight in gold after the Shikei have added horns, precious metals and stones.
Purpose and MeaningThe engravings are meant to tell the story of the deceased, using a highly stylized variant of whatever language is used by the Shikei with symbolic embellishments mixed in throughout. Whatever space on the bone is left is usually adorned with purely decorative engravings. Though the person have gone into the final dark, their deeds and character remain on display for all to see and know about.
Adding metal or gems is purely to flaunt ones wealth, with no practical or spiritual significance. If there is nothing else to say, at least the deceased can brag about their fortune. This has lead to the saying, "that one will leave a pretty skull" and seldom meant as a compliment.Additions such as human or animal bones combine function with form. A fierce warrior's skull might be adorned with the horn of a predator to symbolize power, for instance.