In a largely secular world, many may find the concept of professional mourners quite silly.
Professional mourners are people who are hired to express lament by crying, keening, and wailing to make the mourning of the bereaved more intense, usually to show respect to the dead and also as a sign of status. On a more practical side, they are present to ‘coordinate’ the expression of grief, sometimes even with instruments such as tambourines.
The practice has been around since the time of ancient Greece and has eventually been looked down upon by various cultures: forbidden by Plato, derided by Saint John Chrysostom, banned by the Christian church, and branded as a ‘low trade’ in Islam, before dwindling down in the late Middle Ages.
It is said that the Greeks, the Romans, and much later the Celtics copied the practice from the East. Hired mourners, or ‘crying ladies’ – as they are called in the similarly titled Filipino film released in 2003 – can still be encountered in the Philippines, mostly in traditional Chinese communities, as they can also be found in parts of China, Taiwan, and other countries.
The idea of paying for grief may come as an insult for some, suggesting that the bereaved do not have emotions of their own, but for other cultures, it is an outward sign of honor and respect (which does not of course mean, as shown in the film ‘Crying Ladies’, that weeping is all that professional mourners do).