Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Family Grief

Last night we learned that a good friend’s brother had died in hospital. A white pick-up, horns blaring, supported by a line of motos passed where we were sitting as it transported the corpse to his village just outside Nadowli. He was a young man with a family and nobody will really know why he died. Both his parents are still alive but they will have buried all four of their sons and have 2 daughters remaining. The importance of sons in a family cannot be over estimated.

This morning we went to pay our respects at the first stage of the funeral ceremony. Some people set off to walk there last night. Fortunately, it was a very bright, almost full moon that lit their way. The family and friends had seated him in a chair under the most beautiful tree and were processing around it all night wailing in their grief. This was accompanied by soulful, simple tunes on xylophones. A short distance away a group of men were constructing a wooden “stage” where the body would be positioned seated above head height for the remainder of the ceremony.  You don’t manage your own family funerals. This is the responsibility of people from a neighbouring community. Graves are dug near your home and family members are laid to rest near each other.

As we were about to leave, the body was carried inside the house, one of 4 in this family compound, to be formally dressed for burial. Throughout the day, people will have visited the village, women wearing black cloths around their heads in respect. It seems likely that the burial will be tomorrow and the corpse will not be left alone until then. The rate of decomposition of the body is a factor in this decision. It has been very warm recently and the dry season is under way. However, this afternoon we have just had over an hour of torrential rain. I can’t imagine how disruptive that will be to the funeral proceedings.

There seem to be an unprecedented number of funerals lately. We hear gunfire in the early mornings announcing the arrival of mourners. Sometimes in the quiet of the night you can hear the wailing of women greeting the news of another death in the family. Attending funerals is the predominant responsibility of people during weekends and it is rare they are free from that duty in recent weeks.

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