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15 Of The Most Bizarre African Funeral Rituals

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15 Of The Most Bizarre African Funeral Rituals

A universal ritual and rite of passage, no matter where you go in the world, there will always be funerals. A grim reality for us all, while most people would rather not think about death ever, it is an unfortunate part of life. While there is typically no true way to ease the pain of losing a loved one, most cultures around the globe have taken to using funerals as a means of honoring the dead while giving the living one last opportunity to be in their presence. For those who live here in the states, funerals are majorly handled by paid funeral parlors, making the process a far less personal one than those occurring in other areas. This means that we are a bit spoiled with regards to funeral preparations and such.

For instance, depending where you go in Africa, you will likely encounter a new funeral ritual. A collection of cultures and tribes that function with their own unique set of customs, depending on where you visit, a funeral could be quite a scary sight or the best night of your life. Most importantly, the family and friends of the deceased are often intricately involved in the planning and execution of these ceremonies. With that said, the following is a closer look at some of the most bizarre funeral rituals occurring in Africa.

15. Kenya – Sacrifice A Bull And Smear The Dead With Its Fat

One incredibly cringe-worthy funeral custom exists in Kenya. Although it may sound crazy to those who live in the United States, there is a vast array of cultures around the world that are drastically different from our own. In Kenya, it is customary to smear dead bodies with fat, and not just any fat, this fat must come from a recently sacrificed animal, more specifically, a special, unblemished bull. The bull is slaughtered as a sacrifice to the deceased and the fat from the bull is smeared on the body as a means of protecting the dead body. Perhaps the most visceral part of this is that the eldest son is actually expected to carry out this feat. It’s probably safe to say the eldest boy is not a very privileged position in Kenya.

14. Ethiopia – Family Is Expected To Vomit And Become Physically Injured While Mourning

In some areas of Africa, mourning can be serious business. For instance, in Ethiopia, the bereaved are expected to take at least a week off from work and other activities. Furthermore, not only are they expected to vomit and be wailing and screaming at the ceremony but some are even expected to become injured in the process. The injury is a means of mourning and communing with the deceased and can happen in many ways. For instance, one could become injured by beating their chest or scraping their knees while kneeling and crying. On the other hand, some simply opt to make a statement by doing things such as scraping their faces with thorny fruit or using other methods to acquire bumps and bruises.

13. Contemporary South African Townships – Women Shave Their Heads And Follow Specific Rules For Mourning

Another unfamiliar death ritual lies in the act of mourning itself. While there are different rules for mourning depending on where you live, South Africa has some interesting customs with regards to mourning. For instance, those in bereavement do things such as not leaving the home at all, abstaining from sexual activity, refraining from talking or laughing loudly, wearing all black or pinning black cloth to your clothing, and in some places, men and women are even expected to shave their heads and all facial hair as a tribute to the deceased. Moreover, widows are expected to mourn for at least 6 months to a year while those who children who lost a parent are expected to do so for 3 months. Furthermore, much unlike our society, these customs are all but mandatory in certain areas making those who violate these expectations seem callous and disrespectful.

12. Madagascar – The Turning Of Bones

Now, this death ritual is exactly as grim as it sounds. Known as “the turning of bones”, people in Madagascar have a morbid celebration for their dead loved ones once every 5-7 years. On this day, the body is exhumed by friends and relatives. They then spray the body with wine a perfume (which, I doubt has any effect on the stench) while a band plays live music and family members dance with the body. People also sit around, tell stories, and make new memories with their posthumous loved ones. Treated as a family reunion of sorts, while some attend to ritual for an opportunity to catch up and commune with their loved ones, others attend as a means of remembering the dead and making peace with their death overall.

11. Kenya – Sleeping With The Dead

No, this isn’t some sick and twisted reference to necrophilia. However, this is to be taken quite literally. In some areas of Kenya, the spouse of the deceased is expected to mourn by sleeping next to the body until it is buried. Or more specifically, this is typically the job of a wife with reference to lamenting over her deceased husband. Moreover, she is also expected to cry loudly and ask questions such as “how and I supposed to raise the kids without you?”, “why have you shamed me?”, or even “why did you die?”. Although the origins of this ritual are virtually unknown, it seems to be a method of airing grievances and exorcising negative emotions in order to move forward in a healthier way.

10. Ghana – The Eldest Woman Has To Wash, Dry, And Dress The Body 3 Times

Moreover, while the funerals in places such as America have become far less personal than ever, other places are still very much on when it comes to the death of a loved one. For instance, the Ashanti tribe of Ghana engages in a post mortis cleansing ritual in which the eldest woman of the family washes the body 3 times, dries, and dresses it. Moreover, since it is believed that everything that touches the dead is somehow contaminated, everything is then washed thoroughly as a means of cleansing the home. In addition to that, the clothing of the dead is typically buried until after they are buried. At this point, it is either burned or given to the family as mementos. Lastly, the home itself is typically cleansed once mourning is totally complete as a means of ridding the house of any remaining bad spirits of vibes.

9. Kenya – Casket Selfies

Although America has not yet fully embraced the idea of taking candid photos next to the casket of dead friends and relatives (surprisingly enough), this is certainly not the case for those who live in Kenya. Quite the contrary, in fact, taking pictures during a funeral ceremony is not just acceptable, it’s expected. So, as a part of the ceremony, every guest is allowed to pose next to the coffin as a means of saying their last goodbye and creating one last memory with the deceased. Depending on the size of the family, this portion of the service alone can take hours. On the flip side, in the case in which the body is missing or otherwise unavailable, a banana plant is buried in their place.

8. The Congo – Golden Coffins And Extravagance For Years

In addition to the ancient rituals, many death rituals have been created in recent history. Taking a page from the ancient royalty of the area, many recent funeral and death rituals have included a lavish element that wasn’t present in previous years. These features include things such as golden coffins, grandiose events (i.e. the funerals we witness in New Orleans), these events are reserved especially for the extraordinary and can last for months or even years. No matter if you believe these customs to be a nod to ancient royalty or a sign of things to come, there are few areas capable of pulling off such lavish traditions. Certainly, surpassing any such event being held in the States, these rituals show that although many seem to believe that the entire continent of Africa is stuck in some sort of time warp, it should also be clear that those in the Congo and other areas are sparing no expense to bury their loved ones.

7. Nigeria – Second Burial

On the flip side, another bizarre ritual is an event known as the “second burial”. Taking place in various areas in Nigeria, the second burial is not nearly as grim as it sounds. Quite the contrary, in fact, second burials can be likened to the funerals to that of people here in New Orleans. This is due to the fact that rather than being a sad ceremony in which you cry and mourn the dead, the second burial is more of a celebration in which people dress up in their finest clothing, sing, dance, and celebrate the life of the deceased. Taking place anywhere between 7 months and a year after the first funeral, the purpose of this ceremony is to send the deceased of into a new land, “The Land of the Dead”.

6. Zambia – The Last Roast

On a much more comical note, at least one culture seems to see the value in humor. In classic Zambian culture, it is customary for at least some of the family members to deliver one last roast to the deceased. Although this may sound to be a fairly callous practice, the truth is actually quite the contrary. As a means of comforting the immediate family of the deceased, cousins are expected to help cook and feed the family and guests attending the funeral. As they are making the feast, they have a tradition of cracking jokes on the defenseless deceased as a last tribute of sorts. A loving moment of laughter, this ritual is essentially a light-hearted way of saying goodbye to a loved one.

5. Babongo – Body Taken Into The Forest And Ritual Lasts 3 Days

A culture that is still very active with regards to the hunting and gathering lifestyle, funerals in Babongo are much different to many others. While many have taken to large, grandiose funerals that are highly costly, this nation does almost the exact opposite. Operating on the notion that a village must be cleansed following a death, the entire village takes a part in this massive ritual. First, the body is washed and wrapped in burial cloth. Once the body is prepared for burial, the men carry it into the forest for internment. At this point, the women begin purifying the village. Painting their faces white, they mourn by singing, playing drums, and dancing in a grand ritual that lasts for about 3 days.

4. Zambia – Family Hires Professional Mourners

No, this isn’t the latest in crazy conspiracy theories, professional mourners, at least in the country of Zambia, are a real life thing. With 3 types of professional mourners in existence, things can get quite a bit entertaining for non-locals. The first set of pro mourners are essentially “funeral crashers” who go from service to service mourning loudly for the dead, but really only do so in exchange for food. On the flip side, there are “storytellers” who make up stories about the deceased in order to add to the depth of sadness in the room. For instance, a “storyteller” may say, “My poor brother worked his whole life and now he’s dead! Who will raise his 10 children?”, despite the fact that they aren’t related to the deceased and they may not even have any children at all. Lastly, actual relatives will demonstrate “special mourning” in which they scream out things such as “what will we do with his huge house? None of us can afford to keep it up?”. On the one hand, this is simply a means of paying homage to the dead by mentioning their valuables and achievements in detail. However, on the flip side, this is often used as a means of splitting up and allocating belonging, properties, and funds of the deceased.

3. Ghana – Customized Coffins

In addition to The Congo, those in Ghana are also known for their lavish funerals. In fact, in this country, funerals are expected to cost at least as much as a funeral, if not more. An area that believes death is just one last chance to throw a party, people invest in billboards, large venues, and much more in order to send their loved ones off in style. Moreover, they have even taken to the trend of using lavish, customized coffins. Big business in Ghana, caskets can be adorned in bling or shaped like pretty much anything you can think of. In other words, if you are in the funeral business or have the ability to handcraft things, moving to Ghana could prove to be an absolute goldmine.

2. Morocco – Bodies Buried Within Hours And Only Men Attend The Ceremony

On the flip side, while most places wait at least a few days before burying the deceased, in Morocco, burials are handled immediately. Rather than waiting an extended period of time for the friends and families to make their way over, typically bodies are buried within 12 hours of death. This means that if someone dies in the afternoon they will be buried by the morning and vice versa. Moreover, another interesting tidbit about funerals in Morocco is that only men are allowed to attend the actual ceremony. There is also a feast prepared especially for the mourners which takes place 7 days later. In addition to that, being that the majority of the country is of Islamic faith, they believe that those who die during Ramadan go to heaven immediately. So, I guess Ramadan could be considered “death goals” for those on their way out.

1. Tanzania – Bury The Dead With All Their Belongings

While many believe death to be the final chapter, those in Tanzania would beg to differ. Holding a celebration of life, sending the dead off with love is of the utmost importance. Believing that the family will be haunted if the body is not properly buried, the people of Tanzania take great care of their dead. However, given that they believe in life after death, they also advise those who may not have been the best in this life, that they will have to answer to their ancestors for it in the next one. For this reason, they bury the dead with all of their belongings so they don’t arrive in the next life empty handed.

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