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Ways Of Dying: A Humorous Look At African Funerals

Ask most Africans about funerals; chances are that they will say that death defines one’s lifestyle status.  And for that, Zimbabweans resp...

Ask most Africans about funerals; chances are that they will say that death defines one’s lifestyle status. 

And for that, Zimbabweans respect funeral gatherings as they are forms of celebrating life.

Ironically, these are sad moments that also reunite distant relatives. Here is a chance to parade a newly-acquired Chinese car and or capture pictures for a social network profile album. 

By @Comic24Derick

There are different funeral tributes all with one common denominator nonetheless: we all sing, dance, drink and laugh at funerals, but some are just more memorable than others.

The last funeral category although common has dearth boldly written everywhere. Usually, the deceased lived as a kiya-kiya, a deprived life, struggling for basic needs. 

And chances are that he was called Hardlife, confirming a troubled childhood and also condemning his later living days. Likewise, he fathered many children christening them as Tears, Terror and Tribulations respectively. 

After getting ill, he moved from a congested, underfunded public hospital to traditional healers seeking affordable treatment. During his prolonged sickness, he rarely received any visitors. 

Without food and rent money in town he was taken to his village of birth to die peacefully. 

Most probably his wife left him as she could not bear changing his diapers and fending for the family. Eventually all tasks were left to an equally ailing and aging mother to nurse his only surviving son. 

On his death bed, he had one wish: a decent burial.

After his death was announced, relatives never bothered to identify him to avoid the burden of providing for the funeral. 

For those months, his body became food for maggots in the dilapidated mortuary until the family heeded a warning against ngozi, avenging spirits, if ever a pauper’s burial was performed. Arrangements had to be rushed. 

His children were now scattered all over. 
Skinning A Beast For A Funeral  
Probably one is based in the Diaspora but his prevailing economic situation is more grave than the funeral. Contacting them was not an option. Otherwise they will later demand bus fare to go back. 

So, people had to improvise. The handful gathering secured a few heads of cabbages and bags of maize, a staple food at such funerals. 

Everyone seemed concerned, not because of the loss, but of hunger and how to get rid of the rotting corpse speedily. One taboo to note though, none is allowed to spit or speak ill in the presence of the decomposing body. 

It is uncultured.

During the second day, his makeshift coffin made by the village bush carpenter after dismantling his wardrobe, his only earthly possession is lowered down into the yawning earth. 

Through a small hole, a toe is poking out of the undersized coffin. The grave is suspiciously shallow for the acceptable six feet depth since diggers were deprived of opaque beer, a provision they are entitled to, to speed up and perfect their work. 

The gravesite eulogies are short and precise. Not many close associates, if any are present for clear reasons. He has none left. A family member, visibly confused, will offer a short prerequisite prayer. That’s it. 

After the burial, no one will ever set foot on his grave except for the stray village cattle to nibble at the overgrown weeds. That will be conclusion of a tough life, a life filtered by tragedy and difficulty till his death. 

His epitaph may read: “Rest in peace Hardlife. You will be sadly missed.” The half-hearted message trouble readers in view of the departed’s challenging life journey.
All is now left to the village doomsayers to lay bare the true story of his life. “He could have survived if his son abroad had taken him to the clinic in time. Of course, he was sick but we have seen worse people survive. He could not even afford pain killers; maybe he could have made it. 

He was starved. The only proteins he enjoyed were the flies that fell into his open mouth. Only if he had not joined the opposition party, everything would have been catered for him as a faithful party cadre. Unfortunately, he chose otherwise.” 

This revelation was provided by a cable thin lady who claimed to be a family friend. Every time she attempted to walk, she was like a dangling rope. Her eyes pronounced of death. You just want to dismiss her tale but you can’t, it is somehow haunting and shockingly regular. 

Her uncoordinated body limbs compete for attention as her wire frame is blown by the wind to propel her movement. Finally, her red lips, possibly revealing a secret affair with a vampire. She might be a suitable HIV candidate. 

In Harare, they secretly murmur: chakachaya, meaning: he has the deadly virus.

The next funeral formality is not entirely different with the earliest. Only that it’s relatively organised than the former. Usually, the deceased had a funeral policy to cover for the ill-fated expenses. 

At least she could afford treatment in private clinics covered by a medical aid scheme, so her life was prolonged a bit. Her only challenge though is that she is out of touch with her former friends after she decided to move out of the ghetto in search of a better life. 

Luckily, she remained in contact with some, so they will troop to her final moment to confirm if she was really living large, as she proclaimed. On arrival, visitors are intercepted with an enticing smell of beef stew cooking on the open fire. 

Ruwadzano, church women, are already chomping large chunks of meat amidst loud chuckles before joining the crowd for more rations. By now close relatives have moved sofas outside to create a comfortable sitting arch around massive logs for the duration of the vigils. 

A red cloth on an erect pole flutters in the wind signalling the gloomy event. It’s not unexpected to enjoy a breakfast of peanut butter or jam sandwiches.

If the funeral proceeds to the village, a beast will be slaughtered and all traditional rites strictly observed. With traditional brew constantly flowing, grave diggers will have to be reminded to stop digging otherwise they will disturb the water table. 

Almost everything is smooth sailing, until the nephew handling funeral offerings disappears with the purse. Most of the cash was wired by Diaspora relatives through his name. He was trusted because he grew up under the deceased’s care after his mother died during birth. 

Threats to skin him alive are doused by an elderly man’s wise counsel. “It is not advisable to misuse mari yechema, funeral contributions, because it will bring bad luck,” he warns. His words soon come true. 

Months later, during the memorial service, he turns out to say that he was in a car accident. He proceeds to plead for forgiveness which is duly granted on condition that the deceased also agrees.

Later that night maboorangoma, gatecrashers, move in. These groupies are everywhere. They are like vultures to a carcass, sensing death from afar. They are idle youths seeking pleasure in people’s misfortune. 

One positive about them, they lighten a sombre atmosphere with their rascal antics. Instantly, the room is filled with a stink mix of stale breast milk, soiled underwear, greasy armpits, chimugondiya (cheap washing soap), kachasu (illicit brew), chimonera (newspaper rolled tobacco) and dagga. 

However, no one complains of the sudden air pollution as long as the beat goes on. They conveniently pack into the living room were the body lies in state, thumping the drum until the wee hours. 

They will sing for their hero, even if they never knew her; she is still their hero even in death. Their dancing style is energetic, not for the faint-hearted. 

Massive, fleshy backsides of chubby young mothers flaps provokingly in front of equally anticipating budding men holding onto the plump waistline for a perfect synchronisation to a thunderous applause and whistling. 

This is the native kongonya dancing style. As fatigue creeps in, tea and biscuits is offered but greeted by an emphatic no. 

“Yes, only if there is meat. If not, don’t bother yourself.” Instead, beer is a suitable option. From then, the drum beat thunders louder until liquor reserves run low. 

Sensing alcohol deprivation, the clique disperses whilst pilfering loose gadgets from snoring attendants in the process. 

The next day’s funeral procession is led by an undertaker with relatives in tow offloading genuine echoes of anguish and pain. After prolonged speeches, some in form of emails and Skype, the burial is concluded and people are ferried back home for a tasty luncheon. 

It’s not rare for a distant relative to hang around for another month to witness how the property is distributed. After the will was read, anger reaches boiling point as some anticipating a few assets are upset. 

Thereafter, they will swear to never ever return, even for the imminent tombstone unveiling.

Without doubt, one can expect to sample foreign cuisines if they are privileged to attend a high-ranking funeral. From experience, the pomp competes with weddings. Often, the departed would be a tycoon; a practising politician, in many cases both. 

In most instances, he had died in a foreign hospital getting quality healthcare. Rumours of his demise began as whispers, people fearing harassment for spreading hearsay. Then a state daily confirmed it: “Minister X dies, declared a national hero.” 

With that announcement, party loyalists begin to whet their appetites, invigorate party slogans for another state-sponsored funeral. They know that it offers loads of free feast and booze, party regalia donned with slogans and a portrait of the departed; another addition to their empty wardrobes. 

As usual, transport for mourners to the heroes’ shrine will be provided for a deserving send off to their gallant hero. If his resume is not convincing, spin doctors spruce it in order to meet the required standards, whatever they are.

The road to the memorial is open for all. Contrary, the one to his official residence is restrained. For starters, security is tight to guard against enemies. Congregates are thoroughly searched and are under constant surveillance by men in black suits and dark glasses. 

Dinner or launch is a three course buffet. 

Expensive liqueurs, wines, import quality whisky such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Martini cocktails are served at the all-night bar. Entertainment is duly provided by hired groups. Foreign guests are booked in hotels and don’t endure the agony of night vigils. 

The selected white casket is of imported metal to safeguard the respected occupant. 
Later it was confirmed that lifelong state grants will be availed for the surviving family. Who is who of the town drives by to pass their heartfelt condolences, with more provisions. 

Here you are guaranteed to get a glimpse of the latest car models. Delegates compete to show off designer suits. The conversation is business-like with no out of control wailing. All protocols are done according to the printed programme. 

The day before the send-off will end with guests departing for their air-conditioned hotel rooms.

At the shrine blood relatives clad in expensive mourning garments occupy the front pews fanning the heat away. Some children raised abroad during his exile tenure are confused at the lavishness of the occasion when it is supposed to be a funeral. 

Why all the armed security in a country struggling to feed its populace? At the podium, media personal trample upon each other to capture the moment. Their wait is soon turned to fear when sirens from a kilometre-long motorcade snakes into the enclosure. 

And more men in black emerge. 

As the programme progresses, the main speaker arise for his speech. A deafening applause greets him punctuated by persistent party slogans. When the noise finally dies away, he reads from his prepared speech. 

“Dear comrades and friends, we are once again gathered here to commemorate the life of another gallant fighter, a true son of the soil.” He goes on to add life to a lifeless character. The conclusion is always predictable.

“He was a committed cadre. Hamba kahle, gamba remagamba, go well fighter, a hero among heroes.” 

In many party loyalists’ minds is a probing question: How will I die? Will I ever be remembered after this life? - The Kalahari Review

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