Monday, 31 October 2011

A Funeral Experience

The first day back at the office didn’t turn out as I had expected, as often happens here. It was announced that a teacher from a Nadowli town school had died yesterday. On further enquiry, he had collapsed, evidently. This is frequently the explanation of a death. There is little investigation into cause of death and nobody seems to question it.

It was decided that all of us at the office would go down to the house to pay our respects. Apparently, the corpse was seated in a raised chair yesterday, immediately following his death and the mourning process began then. Family members with cloth pieces tied around their wrists and other mourners processed and danced around the body throughout the day and possibly into the night to the beat of drums and a wooden xylophone. Today the corpse was in an open coffin with an awning to protect it from the hot sun. We joined the procession along with the exhausted, wailing wives, daughters and other members of the extended family. Some mourners were throwing coins in the direction of the body.

Afterwards we were offered a seat and given water and minerals to drink. Funerals are very expensive for a family. They are expected to offer refreshments and people attending make donations to help. The burial will take place tonight. Georgitta, our cleaner, told me that in this area people cannot afford to keep corpses in the mortuary, they have to be buried almost immediately. More affluent families pay for refrigeration to allow people to come from far flung places to attend the funeral and a more elaborate occasion and celebration can be planned for some weeks ahead.

The family came around shaking the hands of everyone there. As I walked home 2 men were burning the hair off a whole pig in a smoking fire pit beside the path, the start of food preparation for the burial ceremony tonight. After the burial, it is bad luck on the family to cry and be sad. The mood changes to one of celebration for the life lived and there is a party atmosphere to the rest of the proceedings.

There will have been few children taught today in Nadowli. They will have been on their own in classrooms as most teachers were attending the mourning. Funerals always take priority.

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