Good evening everyone. I’ve been quiet for a while, looking for inspiration for a blog and processing.
Well tonight that inspiration arrived in a darker way than I’d hoped it might. Two houses away from me there’s a funeral. The procession from the clinic came by around 1600 hrs (4pm). I want to describe what a bush funeral is like. Let’s get some of the nasty bits out of the way – the family and clinic staff prepare the body and use cotton to seal all orifices – there’s no mortuary, no refrigeration etc so it’s a very time sensitive issue.
After the body has been prepared the news is spread throughout the community – in a visceral, heart wrenching – haunting manner. Members of the deceased family wail and mourn as they run through the community. The sound of pain, anguish, and moaning serves as a signal horn that the community should assemble for the funeral.
After the gathering calls have gone out, the immediate family escort the body – often unwrapped or placed in a chitenge (length of cloth) and carried to the family home. The entire procession is wailing and mourning – the sounds amplify as more and more of the community join and the echoes of pain linger in the African air – haunting and eerie. A funeral here isn’t like a funeral in the US. Everyone is expected to come – whether you knew the person or not – and if someone dies while visiting, the entire community will bury them as if they were one of their own – all members attendant. When a funeral occurs all other business is put on hold.
Once the procession reaches the home, the body is placed inside for friends and immediate family to sit with them and pay their respects – mourning continues outside and inside at an increased level. The body is then brought outside and laid in a bed. The community pays respects, rites are given, and then a coffin may or may not be made (depends on the condition of the body and on the time of death in relation to morning/evening/night). The body is taken to the cemetery – an untouched section of forest and laid to rest.
That, in a nutshell, is a funeral in the bush. As I type this the wails and mourning of the community echo through a thunderstorm giving an eerie, haunting quality. It’s never pleasant to hear people in pain, especially not in such a vocal way – but there is something awe-inspiring in the juxtaposition of soft pitter-patter of rain on my thatch roof and water dribbling into my aluminum gutters, and spikes of wailing cutting straight to the bone. Then the huge thunder claps, and flashes of lightening bursts supported by mournful cries. It’s creepy, sad, makes your soul weep and celebrate the joy of that person’s life, the beauty of nature, and the face of god…shown in the love, pain, and expression over a fellow human being’s passing.
I’ll sit back in reverie now and leave you with that.