EARLIER this year, proceedings at Glen View 1 shops came to a halt as friends of the late Lizzy paraded her coffin in the open. The procession saw mourners throwing “ballooned” condoms all over while imitating sexual acts signifying the trade of the deceased. In another incident last month, stunts by some commuter omnibus crew of raving and skidding their cars left one dead in Sakonda Village in Chihota where they had gone to mourn their colleague.
In 2013, in a similar fashion, the late notorious Mbare robber Boris Mushonga also had drama-filled send-off as his gangster mates stole his coffin and paraded it in the streets. The coffin eventually fell off the moving vehicle. His corpse fell out of the coffin and had to be placed back as police closed in on the dramatic but fierce parade his gang members had started. The above incidents depict what John Dykes articulated, “Our deeds still travel with us from afar…” Funerals have become a bit of everything. And in most cases the elderly are left stunned, bewildered, amused and disgusted by the manner in which the youths behave.
Regardless of how or where we are born, what unites people of all cultures is the fact everyone eventually dies. However, cultures vary in how they conceptualise death and what happens when a person dies. While the end of life experience is universal, the behaviours associated with expressing grief are very much culturally bound. Funerals in Zimbabwe are not only an occasion to mourn. They are also an opportunity to celebrate the life of the dearly departed. Although the tradition where a section of the relatives and friends imitate what the deceased used to do during his/her heydays is not new in the Shona culture, where it is called nzveura, today’s youths have taken mourning to a shocking level.
Chief Kamba of Makoni said the new trend of parading a dead person in the streets was an abuse of culture. “We have never heard of such a thing. It’s an abuse of our Zimbabwean culture that you parade a dead person before burying them. “Our culture says when a person dies he should have one last sleep in the house that he was staying before his death. You can also have him sleep in the house that he/she was staying in the rural home only and not anywhere else. “Taking the corpse to a bar, streets or night spots that the deceased frequented is absurd and shows no respect for the dead.
Chief Kamba, however, applauds nzveura as a lesson for the living. “I personally like nzveura. Though it is done to appease the dead we have a lot to learn from the departed’s life,” he said. “No one is perfect at the end of the day. However, in most African cultures we have a tendency of portraying the dead as holy of which that’s not true. So nzveura is a way of castigating the bad things the departed used to do.”
Death and grief being normal life events, all cultures have developed ways to cope with death in a respectful manner, and interfering with these practices can disrupt people’s ability to cope during the grieving process. During the funeral wake they sing and dance in the chilly cold weather while drinking alcohol as if it were a party. Normally they would take the coffin of the deceased to the street corners and tour the drinking spots they used to frequent.
Moreover if the deceased was a commercial sex worker, mourners would be in for a treat. And in the case that the deceased used to drink alcohol, his friends pour alcohol inside the grave and also bury a few bottles with him claiming that the deceased will have a drink when he/she feels thirsty.
Chief Kamba added that if this is done and a chief gets wind of it, one is duly fined for it. “If this happens in a chief’s area we will definitely arrest the culprits and they are made to pay a fine,” Chief Kamba said. “We reprimand people who don’t respect the dead. It is unfortunate that most of these things are happening in the urban areas.”
Nzveura usually reflects the personality of the deceased and celebrates the conviction of “going home” and being reunited with past friends and relatives. The unwritten dictates of African tradition are that people should respect not only the sanctity of life but the dead for they would have departed to the beyond. Death always reminds people of their inevitable end and mourners are expected to respect the family of the deceased.
In the old age, funeral wakes were sacred such that children were not allowed to attend. However, trends have changed in some sections of society. Reverend Taurai Maforo feels that performing the unimaginable at a funeral is a negation of paying last respects. “Parading a dead person’s coffin or performing nzveura bows down to the aspect of human dignity preservation for the deceased as well as the people performing nzveura,” said Reverend Maforo. “Why wait till someone dies to mock them in that manner? Society plays a part in shaping an individual.”
Funerals have always been associated with a sombre mood. Chief Kamba, however, confirmed the practice of imitating what the deceased used to do in their life in certain Shona cultures but said this was not done for the whole funeral process and is usually done decently. “The role of madzisahwira and varoora is traditionally recognised. The money they demand from mourners is called nzveura, which is just a token for their contribution at the funerals,” he added. “The roles of the two are traditionally accepted at funeral wakes to lighten the mood and ensure everything works according to plan.”
Though the practice is evident in the Shona culture, among the Ndebele culture it is unheard of. It is reported that the Ndebele have sombre funerals. However, they are more active when it comes to umbuyiso. In the past, the house of the deceased would be destroyed to symbolise his demise but that has since been abandoned as they only remove grass or tress as a gesture.
Ghanaian funerals are a social event attended by large numbers of mourners, which could reach hundreds. Coffins have become a statement in Ghana. They are usually brightly coloured and elaborate. They may have fanciful shapes that resemble the dead’s favourite objects, or represent their profession.
Thus, a carpenter may have a coffin shaped like a hammer, or a shoe for shoemaker. There are also caskets shaped like Coca-Cola bottles and airplanes. Ghanaians revere the dead so much that funerals are at the heart of Ghanaians’ social life.
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