Traditional Funeral Services
The South African Rainbow Nation embraces 11 different cultures, all practising different religions and traditional funeral services.
However, the ever-increasing cost of funerals, coupled with the Aids pandemic and shortages of land available for cemeteries, has forced many cultures to reconsider their traditional burial rituals.
Nevertheless, many sections of the South African population have remained committed to traditional methods of laying those nearest and dearest to their final place of rest.
Traditional funeral Services
The Xhosa tribe
Take the Xhosa people, for example.
They do not believe that life ends with death.
Instead, they believe that upon death they enter into another realm of life.
This “change” is expressed in their belief that their ancestors continue to live in the community.
They act as guardian angels, watching over the living while remaining unseen to human eyes.
The coffin is returned to the family home where, if the mother and father are still alive, along with the wife or husband of the deceased, they sit at the head and foot of the open coffin.
Family and friends visit the home to pay their respects and bid their final farewells.
This ritual is believed to be a healing process for those left behind, as well as an understanding of the death.
The following morning, relatives and friends congregate to offer words of kindness and speeches. The ceremony is also accompanied by singing, dancing and drumming.
The Zulu Funeral – Traditional Funeral Services
Burial rites differ from one region to another, with tradition dictating different times and days on which to bury the dead.
The Zulu people mark their respect for the dead by wrapping the body in cowhide. This ritual is dictated by seniority and the wealth of the mourners.
Like the Xhosas, the Zulu people return their deceased to the family home, either in a coffin or casket.
Mourners file past the open coffin to pay their respects.
At the cemetery, the women are now allowed anywhere close to the grave. They usually sit on grass mats in an area set aside for them at the proceedings.
While the deceased can be buried in public cemeteries, the Zulu people regard them as unholy because people buried there can include sinners and criminals.
Cremation, to them, is a curse.
Christians – Traditional Funeral Services
A traditional Christian funeral is conducted with a church service.
The body of the dead is brought to the church in a coffin or casket which, depending on the decision of the family, can be open for mourners to pay their last respects.
Family and friends pay tribute to the deceased in the form of speeches and, after the service, mourners gather at the family home or selected venue, where refreshments are served and respects paid to the surviving family members.
Christians do not oppose cremation
Catholics – Traditional Funeral Services
Catholics believe that after death they start a new life in heaven.
Mourners can view the deceased before the start of a full requiem mass.
People close the casket throughout the mass and then goes to a cemetery or crematorium where the priest anoints the body for the last time.
A Muslim burial
Like the Jews, Muslims believe the dead must be buried as soon as possible.
They, too, opt for burial rather than cremation.
Funeral service providers
Most families rely on the services of funeral providers to take care of all the details involved with a death in the family.
These services include the provision of:
- Basic coffins to top-of-the-range caskets
- Personal attention and professional advice regarding funeral arrangements
- Transferring the deceased to a funeral home, church or crematorium
- Advice on the wording and placing death notices in newspapers
- Organising fresh flowers for the funeral
- Preparing the body for burial
- Offering private family viewing facilities
- Printing funeral pamphlets
- Providing grave equipment
- Offering bereavement counselling to families of the deceased
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