Funeral Practices in Western Africa
Africa is deeply rooted in the traditional beliefs, religion, and traditions. The funeral practices are linked to the African’s perception of continuation of life after death, powers and responsibility of the dead ancestors. During funeral events in the Western Africa, rituals are performed in combination with religion. The religious systems change across Islam and Christianity which are the big religious groups in African.
Beliefs behind the African rituals
According to African Religions (2016), states that the funeral rituals in the Western Africa are meant to please the spirit of the deceased by giving them a proper and decent send-off. It is believed that the dead will later rest with the ancestors for protection. These funeral practices are not only to please the dead but also to celebrate the passing away of the deceased.
West African burial
The Africans believe that a good send-off ensures the spirits are at peace so as not to haunt back and disturb the lives of the living. The deceased is to be buried properly so as to rest in peace and protect the family members and relatives left behind. The African beliefs come from a concept stating that life continues after death. Death is considered to be a situation of being. The Africans believe that the deceased exists in the spiritual world. If the deceased is not given a decent burial or the deceased lived a false life, then it is believed that his spirits will come back and hover around causing harm to the living. Additionally, not everyone is given a decent or proper burial, witches, the undeserving and sorcerers are not buried properly, and he is not allowed to be part of the ancestor’s community (Ruddock, 2015).
Tribal and region Variations
Within the African content, Western part of Africa has many countries with different religions and practices. With the adverse religions and practices, these funeral rituals vary from region to region although there are some similarities due to common cultural and traditional beliefs. A good example is the Xhosa tribe from the South Africa on how they conduct the burial of the late president Nelson Mandela (Kalusa & Vaughan, 2014, p. 24).
The funeral rituals preparation begins immediately after one passes on. The home is prepared in readiness for receiving visitors coming to pay their last respect to the deceased. According to African Religions (2016), home preparations may include; the bed belonging to the deceased is removed from the room, vigil nights are held at home as the community members give respect to the deceased and console with family, all windows and mirrors are covered or put facing the wall so that the dead do not view themselves, the deceased’s photos are removed or placed facing the wall. During the late former president Nelson Mandela’s burial, all windows were smeared with ash. Before burial, mourners may mourn loudly and can be heard from a distance. Food is gathered and other essential commodities that can be consumed by the visitors before and immediately after burial.
Burring of the body
The funeral practices involved when the body is taken to the morgue, or the burial site is to walk in a twisted way to confuse the dead so as not to find or trace his way back to the home. The Funeral Source (2016) shares more practices that include; passing of the body through a hole in the wall, the hole is later sealed to symbolize the deceased is part of the ancestral land. Secondly, while taking the body out, the feet come out first so as to face away from his house. Obstacles such as branches and thorns are thrown to the dead to act as barriers to block his way back home. The corpse is wrapped in clothes or cover by the hide of an animal (Ruddock, 2015).
According to the Igbo community from the Western part of Africa, do prefer to bury the dead as soon as possible to enable the deceased join the ancestral community. Other communities take quite long as they await other family members who are away. Some communities keep their dead in morgues as they wait for other members to assemble and in the meantime, they collect money and donations so as to have a decent burial (The Funeral Source, 2016). On the funeral day, a procession is held to the burial site, people sing and dance. Most of the communities bury their dead ones on family plots that are near the homes. It is believed that if they are buried away in the farming fields, then crops will not do well.
After-Funeral practices and Customs
Ruddock (2015), states that after burial, it does not end there. Depending on the area, after burial is done, ritual practices do continue with some communities taking more than a month. During this time the mourners are sprinkled with holy water to keep the family safe. During and after funeral, the bereaved is not allowed to engage in sexual activity; one is not allowed to socialize; one is not allowed to laugh or talk loudly; the family members are expected to shave their hair as a sign of death and life; bereaved women are supposed to mourn for almost one year while children mourn for not less than three months. At the end of everything, an animal is sacrificed to cleanse the home and the family members.
African Religions. (2016). African Religions – rituals, world, burial, body, funeral, life, customs, beliefs, time. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://www.deathreference.com/A-Bi/African-Religions.html
The Funeral Source. (2016). Funeral Traditions, Customs, & Religious Rites: The Funeral Source. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://thefuneralsource.org/traditions.html
Kalusa, W. T., & Vaughan, M. (2014). Death, belief and politics in Central African history. Lusaka, Zambia: Lembani Trust.
Ruddock, V. (2015). Death Rituals in Africa. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from http://dying.lovetoknow.com/Death_Rituals_in_Africa