Funerals turn into battlefields – Remember Lameck from Mabvuku? – Last week it was Jah Prayzah

Fatima Bulla and Veronica Gwaze
REMEMBER Lameck Makwiramiti Chimoka from Mabvuku? That hot-headed father who caused an embarrassing scene during the burial of his daughter’s mother-in-law? The funeral came to a standstill, as Lameck ranted and raved about how the mother-in-law had ill-treated his daughter.

This was embarrassing, but in no time, Lameck became a hero of some sort.

Then last week, man-of-the-moment, Jah Prayzah had to summon all his athletic skills to escape marauding mourners at Glen Forest. Jah had to be at his best as he dogged missiles that were being thrown at him by irate friends of the late but loveable Crispen Nyemba. As they are saying “Soja rakamhanya.”

But the troubling question is, what has happened to our funerals?

Funerals have always been held with honour and respect in the African culture.

While we were growing up, when death visited a neighbour, our elders would always go and condole with the bereaved families.

We would always demonstrate empathy and show respect to the bereaved family.

No one was supposed to play loud music when neighbours were mourning, lest it gave the impression that we were celebrating while others were mourning.

That is the essence of what we were taught in the African set-up.

Unfortunately, some of our rich values are slowly disappearing as witnessed by cases of feuds happening at funerals.

In our culture, when a person dies, a relative asks before all and sundry if the deceased owed anyone any money or if anyone owed the deceased anything.

People are supposed to open up and claim their debts at that point, or own up to what they owe the deceased.

In the same vein, there are cases where families refuse to bury their loved one in an effort to their in-laws to pay lobola.

In January 2014, relatives and friends of a suspected pick-pocket who died after he was allegedly assaulted by a security guard at Mahomed Mussa Wholesalers dumped his coffin at the Wholesaler’s entrance.

The relatives only proceeded to bury the corpse after getting advice from the police.

In June 2011, a Kuwadzana man refused to bury his daughter and dumped the corpse at his in-law’s house, demanding a posthumous bride price of $12 000.

Then in 2012, relatives of a deceased Beitbridge woman stormed her funeral service and removed her body from a casket, wrapped it in a blanket and took it to Chiredzi because they preferred burying her in the Save area.

In 2012, a Chitungwiza woman’s burial was stalled following a feud between in-laws demanding a ransom of $10 000 dollars and 11 beasts. However, the two families eventually compromised and resolved to proceed with the burial.

These cases seem to be on the rise.

During a conversation with Chief Donald Kamba of the Makoni Chieftaincy last week, the chief revealed that although funerals are gatherings that demonstrate unity, the most effective way to highlight displeasure with the deceased or his/her relatives is to turn an atmosphere of giving respect to one of turning heat on the bereaved relatives.

“The African’s understanding of drama is at its most creative where emotions are unleashed to shock the unsuspecting mourning public.

“Roora is even demanded before burial and all sorts of penalties are levelled against the bereaved to effect maximum embarrassment to both relatives and well-meaning friends. This cultural practice that is now deemed illegal and extortionist by Zimbabwean law remains legitimate in its philosophical offensive.

“This practice helps those who have issues to settle, to do so while the sun is still shining. Any lapse in meeting culturally and morally acceptable conduct is punishable at funerals.

“Put differently, the African culture is driven on philosophy that must persuade people, that when everything else fails, it is only in the ability to be cruel that people realise how important it is to be kind,” said Chief Kamba.

He highlighted that drama at funerals is a smokescreen of the bigger issue that in Shona idioms says, “Seri kweguva hakuna muteuro”.

In addition, Chief Kamba said a Eurocentric view seeks to expose such happenings as instructive of the so-called barbaric, awkward and backward nature of Africans.

“The absurdities and obscenities at some funerals assist the relatives, friends and onlookers to go back to their various destinations with clear lessons as to how important it is to lead ordered lives in order to accord a funeral the befitting occasion it must be. That is to say a time to build a legacy worth emulating by giving last respects to the deceased.

“The above views do not seek to justify or condemn drama at certain funerals but are a humble attempt at explaining a journey that defines the African and his value system.

“The increased incidences of disorder at funerals show how important it is to go back to our roots as an African people and to give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

“This occurrence calls for the need to ensure that laws are culturally and socially embedded to allow for the free flow of the African value system and to ensure that offenders of cultural values do not hide behind so-called human rights,” he concluded.

In Zimbabwe, there is a law that incriminates public disorder.

Zimbabwe Republic Police, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said, “…Public violence is a cause for concern for us. There is no particular law for commotion at funerals for public violence is generally accountable to the police and action regarding the situation needs to be taken whenever.”

Despite the existence of laws that incriminate disorder at funerals, squabbles with some turning violent continue to be witnessed at funerals.

University of Zimbabwe Chairperson in the department of Sociology, Professor Claude Mararike highlighted issues that could influence havoc at a funeral.

“A person for example who died as a result of a fight, here negotiations were needed. The one who killed was not allowed to attend the funeral then later the elders would sit and reconciliation were made.

“Suspicions were also a cause for funeral conflicts (where people suspected someone to have caused the death). Those suspicions created conflict and those who were suspects would be questioned what they wanted at the funeral. Even relatives would suspect each other and this would create a conflict.

“Marriage also was another cause, especially if they died as a result of a fight. The reasons of the death created conflict at the funeral. In such cases they would demand bride price before burying (if deceased was a woman). However, this was not as rampant as these days,” Prof Mararike said.

In his analysis, Prof Mararike also alludes that conflicts existed before but is now worse because of access to media, especially social media, as information is now reaching people much faster.

Further, Prof Mararike said people no longer respect funerals and there are no restrictions on who should attend.

“Also there aren’t many elders now, and even if they are there, they no longer play a role at a funeral because they have no money, no cars. So youngsters are now in charge and this has led to lack of proper protocol.

“Parlours and churches have taken the lead and so all protocol has been lost because they are in business and mainly after money.

“Lack of control has overtaken. Work mates and friends are now in charge and not the relatives. People need to know each person who comes to mourn but because of city life, the normal burial order and channel has diverted.”

“It is now a question of who has the resources to bury you. Way back when there were grievances, family meetings were held, families negotiated and reconciled, reparations were paid and then families would reunite.”

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