What do you do with your dead in Africa? Are they cremated?

Briefly, in most African cultures, it is our hope that our dead can join their ancestors in the world beyond. The difference lies in how the deceased is prepared for, and sent on this journey into the world of his ancestors. The person's age, sex, status in society and even the manner of death are some of the numerous factors that shape his or her burial.

It has, therefore, always been the practice in Africa for the dead to be buried rather than cremated. In this way, African communities are able to stay connected to their deceased relatives through certain traditional rites and ceremonies performed from time to time, and on particular occasions at the grave of the deceased person. The pouring of libation as a form of prayer to invoke the deceased person's services from the spirit world, just like Christians pray to spiritual personages, is just an example. Sometimes traditional burial practices are carried out side by side with the Christian method; this is the African's plight ever since he was transformed into a cultural hybrid by his encounter with the West.

How do Africans bury people?

Again, this is another very complex area traditionally, as it varies from ethnic group to ethnic group, and whether or not one has bought into Christianity or otherwise. Again, the deceased person's status in his traditional society and the manner of his death are some of the influential factors. For example, if the deceased is a traditional leader, his burial is different from that of an ordinary member of the tribe. If death is not natural, say by suicide, again the manner of burial is different. Is it a child who has died, a pregnant woman, a newborn? These different factors influence the burial rite, and in some cases how the deceased is positioned in his or her grave. Robert J. Thornton's recordings on death and the treatment of the dead among the Iraqw of Tanzania amounts to a good illustration of how complex burial practices can be amongst certain African peoples given the diverse factors that are brought to bear:

Funerals are not important foci of ceremonial observance. The dead are dealt with quickly. Young children who die are rarely buried. Their bodies are left in the bush where they are consumed by the hyena. I am told that in the past, all persons with the exception of important ritual specialists were also disposed of in this manner. Ritual specialists were buried with graves marked with heaps of earth and beer offering were made to their spirits (gii). Today, I am told that the dead are simply and quietly buried near the doorway of the house that they occupied in life. (180)

There is so much, therefore, that comes into play when different culture groups of Africa bury people, and there are certain unique peculiarities as one moves from age to gender to social status and from one ethnic group to another.

Is suicide common in Africa?

Comparatively speaking, no! To take one's life, unlike the case with the Romans or the Japanese samurai, is a terrible thing within the belief patterns of many African societies. The result is that it brings along disregard for the family of the deceased, to the extent that families might not be willing to associate themselves in any way with the family of a suicide victim. Parents will say "no" to their children even getting married to anyone whose family has been tarnished by any taboo such as suicide. Suicide does occur from time to time, but it is extremely rare indeed.

What is the life expectancy in Africa?

This varies from country to country. According to a posting from the new World Health Report of the World Health Organization (WHO) released in the year 2000, due primarily to the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, life expectancies for African children have dropped significantly: the WHO calculated life expectancy for babies born in 1999 based upon an indicator developed by WHO scientists, Disability Adjusted Life Expectancy (DALE). DALE summarizes the expected number of years to be lived in what is termed the equivalent of "full health." To calculate DALE, the years of ill-health are weighted according to severity, and subtracted from the expected overall life expectancy to give the equivalent years of healthy life..

All of the bottom 10 countries were in sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV-AIDS epidemic is rampant. In ascending order beginning with 191, those countries were Sierra Leona (sic) 25.9years, years of healthy for babies born in 1999; Niger, 29.1; Malawi 29.4; Zambia, 30. Botswana 32.3; Uganda 32.7; Rwanda, 32,8; Zimbabwe, 32.9; Mali, 33.1 and Ethiopia 33.5" ("Africa: Life Expectancy") So, in all, whereas some people live long lives comparatively speaking, there are others whose lifespan is really short. Some texts have put Africa's life expectancy at 59 by 1990, but I have come to lose faith even in statistical so-called details about Africa as I am now convinced that figures are man-made and can be cooked up by different bodies to serve whatever purpose they have in hand at the time. Such statistics will reveal the life span, like much else about Africa, to be dismal if that's what they want it to be at the time.

Before the AIDS epidemic, death was known to be a guest in the quarters of the aged only, but the trend is certainly no longer the same as even the very young die nowadays due to AIDS.

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