Xhosa Burial Rituals

Xhosa Burial Rituals are as unique as their ‘clicking’ language which is perhaps one of the most recognisable aspects of the Xhosa people.

In fact the language has 15 click sounds which have been taken from Khoi or San words. Pre-1994, two regions, the Transkei and Ciskei, were set aside for Xhosa people.

Just as with all the other races in South Africa,  Xhosa burial rituals have interesting customs and traditions.

Names in Xhosa are fascinating too and take on other aspects depending on your place of residence, adults are often referred to by their isiduko or clan name, so that a woman for instance, from the Thembu clan might be referred to as MamThembu.

Xhosa Burial RitualsThe Soul Must be Returned to the Ancestral Home

Acording to Xhosa burial rituals, if someone dies and they happen to be away from their home, rituals are enacted which symbolise the soul’s return to their ancestral home.

This is because it is believed that the soul has to reside at home in order to re-unite with the mortal body if spiritual harmony is to be achieved. When Xhosa people die, the dead become ancestral spirits and the living are able to communicate with them.

If the soul-returning process isn’t adhered to, the spirit of the person will wander around restlessly and this could result in the family suffering some kind of misfortune.

If, however, the symbolic enactment of the return is adhered to, their ancestors will be pleased and good fortune as well as protection will be the family’s portion. If any steps are missed out, then a ‘putting-it-right’ ceremony must be held so as to appease the ancestors.

Xhosa Burial Rituals require an animal be Slaughtered

Xhosa “umkhapho” is a ritual where a cow is slaughtered and this is part of the process which takes the person into the afterlife. In fact the type of animal killed depends on the social status of the person being buried.

Not only that, if the animal being slaughtered bellows, then this is a sure sign that the deceased person will be welcomed in the afterlife.

If the person was considered important, an ox will be slaughtered while a goat may be slaughtered for ordinary people. Blood is collected from the slaughtered animal and a small strip of meat is cut from the right foreleg of the animal and this is roasted.

When it comes to the actual burial, a person will be buried along with some of their personal  belongings. These can be special blankets, a spear, an item of clothing or tobacco. If it rains on the days before the funeral, this is seen as a good sign that the heavens and the spiritual world are welcoming the dead.

A Long Process Towards the End of Mourning

The mourning period lasts from about six months to a year then another ritual takes place. Friends and relatives offer gifts to the family, sometimes replacing time worn items which were close to the deceased. The mourning family will once again be able to enjoy their freedom.

Guidance from the Ancestors

For a lengthy period after death, family ceremonies will continue to call on the deceased person’s spirit for mediation purposes, and the Mandela family for instance will be glad to receive guidance from this great Xhosa personality on how to proceed in the future.

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