Death in African Culture
August 24, 2016
The African concept of death is different. And death in African culture is interesting.
Africans believe that death is not the end of life, but just the beginning. Death is the start of communication between the living and the dead in African culture.
To them, death does not alter the existence of the individual. It just changes the conditions. The people who have died continue to ‘live’ in their communities as ancestors, wielding much power among the living, especially over their families.
The whole aim of the African culture is to become an ancestor after death. They believe the dead have more power than the living.
If you live a dishonourable, evil life, you won’t enjoy the correct send-off at your death, and will wander around aimlessly in the spirit world, causing harm to family and members of the community.
What is a ‘Correct’ Funeral?
A fitting funeral includes many religious ceremonies.
Some of these beliefs, customs, and traditions about death in African culture are:
Death in African Culture – After Death
- The oldest woman in the family washes the deceased’s body three times, then dries, and dresses it.
- She launders any item that touched the body. Afterwards, she stores the clothing till after the mourning period, then either burned or given to the family.
- Many African people have a custom of removing the body through a hole in the wall, and not through the door. After the body is passed through, the men close the hole. Africans believe that this makes it impossible for the dead person to remember his way back to the home.
- Others again, want the dead to be able to return home, so the deceased is buried under, or next to the home.
- Sometimes the body is removed feet first so that the deceased is facing away from the home.
- They also believe that when a person dies, they live on in the spirit world in their whole body, but with new supernatural powers.
- The family turns all pictures to face the wall, and all mirrors covered so that the dead cannot see their reflections.
- The family removes the bed from the room.
- When members of the community arrive at the home, there is much loud crying, heard far away. There is also lots of cooking, eating, and preparing for the funeral.
Death in African Culture – The Spirit World
- The departed go to the spirit world but no-one seems sure where it is.
- It is a place without pain or hunger.
Death in African Culture – The Funeral or Burial
- The African people often take a winding and zig-zag path to the burial site, so that the dead cannot find their way back.
- The community spreads branches, thorns, and other obstacles along the road or path.
- Planting fields will never be used as a burial site, as they believe the crops won’t grow there again.
- Some groups ban children and unmarried people from attending the funeral.
- There is often a ritual killing of an ox or cow that accompanies the deceased to the land of the ancestors to make them happy, as they act as protectors of the living.
Death in African Culture – Mourning Rituals
- Mourning can continue for at least a week after the funeral, but can continue for several weeks.
- No leaving the house or socialising.
- Refrains from sexual activity.
- No loud talking or laughter.
- Mourners wear black clothing and men and woman in the family shave their heads, including facial hair, symbolising death and a new life.
For people who understand the African concept of mortality, and can offer you the means to give your loved ones a ‘correct’ funeral, contact Tough Times Transport.
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All info was correct at time of publishing