This past weekend saw Nelson Mandela, one of South Africa’s greatest struggle heroes, buried. A few days before the funeral a memorial service was held to honour this great man. During the proceedings the heavens opened and mourners were drenched while celebrating the life of Mandela. Anywhere else in the world the poor weather would have been considered something of a disaster, but it would seem that in Xhosa culture rain at a funeral is seen as a blessing from the ancestors – a nice way to look at something that’s normally considered bad luck!
Obviously burial rites vary from country to country and from culture to culture, and it’s always interesting to see how people carry out this very important ritual. Zulu people have a very strong belief in the afterlife, with respect for the ancestors guiding many of the decisions that they make during this life. So it follows then that a Zulu burial is a very important ritual to be observed. Even today the traditions associated with death are still followed fairly rigidly, and more interestingly, are respected by many young Zulu people, who have left behind a lot of the customs that they grew up with. So what does a traditional Zulu funeral look like?
There are so many different aspects, but some of the most important include the slaughtering of an animal as a gift to the ancestors (this is done when the deceased was the head of the household), the washing of hands with the dung from the slaughtered animal (done after the deceased has been buried), the burning of incense (impepho) to communicate with the ancestors, and the drinking of utshwala besiZulu (Zulu beer). Death is seen as another stage of life, and a burial is a celebration of this transition. It is very important that the correct funeral rites are observed – if not the deceased may come back to trouble the living!
Interestingly the tombstone is only unveiled a year or two after the person has died, with the unveiling involving many of the same rituals that take place during the burial.
Photo courtesy of www.battlefieldsroute.co.za