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Death

Do Africans cry when their person dies?

Because of the way Africans bond with their friends, and especially with members of their family, the demise of a friend, but more so that of a family person, is a very painful occurrence. The result is that there is a lot of weeping and wailing involved. Unlike in most of the West, even neighbors in Africa become very strongly connected and with a natural obligation towards each other. Walter Rodney is in line when he points out: "In all African societies during the early epoch, the individual at every stage of life had a series of duties and obligations to others in the society as well as a set of rights: namely, things that he or she could expect or demand from other individuals" (45). It is still very much the situation even though some degree of individualism—a Western influence—is beginning to threaten this atmosphere as is the case with many other areas of traditional African life. This notwithstanding, traditional African ways are still overriding. Accordingly, neighbors visit each other whenever they feel like it and without the need to first call and alert them, and yet they are always warmly welcomed. When people are this strongly connected, the affairs of one person are the affairs of the other; this brings about a lot of pain and crying when a member of such a society dies.

How different is an African funeral?

That is a very huge question in terms of how much needs to be said. In any case, the first thing to know is that the word "funeral" is very limiting as it fails to capture entirely what obtains when a member of society dies in Africa, because of the elaborate and equally complicated nature of the rites and other traditional activities that take place. Accordingly, it is more appropriate to talk of a "death-celebration," commonly referred to in some societies as "cry-die." This is the case because the nature of a "cy-die" depends on many different factors: the age of the deceased, religious background, and status in society are basic examples. The bottom line is that there is a lot of display of emotions if this were a young person, or a strategic person in the family in terms of being the breadwinner for the family; this is not to say the death of anyone else is of no consequence but simply that it is treated differently.

If the person who dies is fairly old, then instead of the bitter pain displayed at the death of a much younger person, say in his thirties, forties or fifties, there is some weeping mainly because that person will be missed. But before long, the atmosphere turns into one of celebration as it is acknowledged that in any case the person, given his years, had led a long and fulfilling life.

In the case of a baby, in the other extreme, although there is some mourning, the funeral is usually solemn, to acknowledge the fact that a human spirit has passed on, but the community also realizes that there are more chances of having other babies since the parents are still alive. Again, this does not mean the child's life was not valued; no, it is a way of consoling the parents by making them realize that not much had gone into this baby yet, besides the tedious months the mother spent carrying him/her in her womb. It is to say it could have been more devastating if the family had spent time and resources grooming this child into a young adult and getting used to him or her as a member of the family, only for the child to die, or if the mother had also died in the process of child birth.

Accordingly, African "death-celebrations" have phases depending on the status of the deceased person in his/her society. In the Bamenda Grassfields of Cameroon, for example, there is the first phase—when the death has just occurred—that has a lot pain and weeping involved. Then there is the next phase, almost immediately before and after the deceased has been interred, which is marked by a celebration characterized by "feasting" on the part of friends and family alike as they honor the departure of a soul, and his or her achievements here on earth if the person is advanced in age. It is worth noting, however, that treating African "funerals" is beyond the scope of this venture as the factors that come into play in different circumstances, add different shades to the nature of an "African funeral".

 
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