8 People You Are Likely To Meet At an African Funeral

For the benefit of global village who have been misinformed or have a warped image of what Africa is or what our culture, living conditions are I thought I could be one of the people to edumacate the masses. I attended a funeral this past week and realised from this one and past experiences that there are a few characters that are common to a traditional African funeral.

DISCLAIMER: This is not representative of the whole continent but a certain region of one country though it may spill over to other places.
Image by Kwaku Gyanteh
Image by Kwaku Gyanteh

1. The Alcoholic Uncle

Admittedly there is a drunk uncle for every occasion. He deals with loss the only way he knows how; finding solace at the bottom of the bottle. His sole intention is to hit an all time low every single day of preparation for the actual funeral service. He rants, makes an ass of himself, dances to music in his head, and makes passes at the females all before passing out at 2pm. When he wakes up, it is back to the regular show of boozing.

2. The Village Lunatic

He shows up at the same time everyday like he has a schedule planned out. They are known individuals suffering from mental illness that live harmoniously within the community. They have never been institutionalised and the general consensus is that they donโ€™t bother anyone so they are given free roam of the village. Their illness is usually regarded as a curse brought down upon their family for contravening some age-old tradition or a result of being bewitched by someone they crossed paths with or suffering a generational curse stemming from their parent(s) slighting someone. At funerals they are treated as special guest and catered to heavily with food and drink.

3. The Glutton

They are known throughout the village for having large appetites. Their plates are always heaped and their cups never run empty. They always ask for seconds no matter how heaped the first plate is because they will find a way of cleaning it up bone dry then proceeding to take a well deserved nap from the itis. A plastic bag, serving as an improv doggy bag is always on hand to collect more food for their “kids” and as the week progresses they get more brazen and bold, bringing Tupperware to make collection much easier. Culturally itโ€™s frowned upon in Botswana to take food from a funeral from one house to the other because it is seen as taking or inviting death to your house but the gluttons do so anyway without fear of the consequence. How they work up a huge appetite is a mystery because they hardly do any work. They can be seen under the tent or a tree napping at any given time.

4. The Opportunist

These are relatives of the bereaved who always jump at the opportunity of running the proceedings for the duration of the “function.” They volunteer their services with the intention of profiting financially from the funeral and are usually an uncle or aunt who prefers to work alone or ropes in someone who is easily coerced to help out. By unashamedly clothing themselves in sheep’s skin they pinch contributions brought forward everyday by the community, the church, burial societies, insurance and even immediate family members.

5. The Distant Relative

Always present at these sort of occasions is a relative you donโ€™t know but they seem o have every single detail about your life. They know all of your family members by name but you have never met them before. Your conversations are forever wrought with questions like “how is your job, when are you getting married, when are you coming to visit?โ€ etc. Your standoffish ways hardly ever deter them and eventually ends with an exchange of contacts because of their persistence. They are generally hard working and lend their hand for all activities fully without any reservations.

6. The Jester

They come in to provide comic relief for this morbid affair. They lift spirits by sharing funny stories about the deceased, providing make fun of others and sometimes make themselves the butt of ridicule just to get a laugh and bring good cheer to the people around. Thought they get chided by elders for taking the current situation too light, they mean well.

7. The Funeralator

A specialist of every funeral related task, he is known to skin a cow in record time on his own without any help. Cutting up meat from the carcass is his specialty and he chops firewood like he was trained by Canadian lumberjacks. Legend has it he could chop down 10 trees in 10 minutes all before he had even turned 18. He lifts weights but not just any regular weights but two number 25 Falkirk three legged pots, one for each hand. To keep him going all he needs while he works is a steady supply of Five Roses tea, shaken not stirred and enough fat cakes to feed a small battalion/regiment.

8. The Commander

One or two very aged men in the community who sit by the elders’ fire set aside in the yard. He has a love-hate relationship with The Funeralator who is respectful to his face but spews bile at him when he turns his back. He comes now and then to give instruction on how the meat is being cut, how to skin the cow, how to disembowel, which part is no to be eaten and by who. With a wealth of knowledge in tradition he leads the way and designates people for different task.

The Scavenging Dog

The dog gets a special mention for its tenacity and bravery in a time of great peril and danger. While other dogs survey the land from outside the fences, getting tortured by the smell of food it canโ€™t get to, one sets itself apart and infiltrates. Despite a yard packed full of people, it surreptitiously makes its ways through, picking at tossed animal fat and unattended plates with leftovers. A heckling or a kick here and there doesnโ€™t deter it, oh no, it takes three steps back and takes four more forward. It has been known to tip over a 3 legged pot on an unlit forward if left unattended and dig up discarded insides from a slaughtered cow. TC mark

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