I attended a funeral recently for one of our former student’s father. His father was a former Supreme Court Justice for Malawi, powdered wig and all. It was funeral experience that even the Africans said was unusual. I arrived with several of our former students to a rural location around 10:00 a.m. The men all congregated together under the shade trees. The women collected in the house around the grieving widow where they simply sat with her. After sitting for a little while (or so I thought) I asked a fellow mourner what time it was. He said, “1:15 p.m.” Without knowing it, we’d been there already three hours. At about this time someone came handing out programs for the funeral. It contained 23 items!!!! Around 2:00 p.m. a group of wailing women, most of whom did not even know the deceased, came and circled in an area around our feet. There they sat, young and old, holding their hands over their faces and moaning and shrieking in loud cries. Someone came and said we could now proceed to the viewing. So we all got up and stood in a line and went through a house where the body lay. There were two lines proceeding into the dwelling, each line containing hundreds upon hundreds of people. As we moved through the house there were scores of women sitting around the coffin praying and singing Christian hymns. It was actually quite stirring. About 2:30 p.m. the funeral began. Everyone was greeted by the master of ceremonies – a local pastor. Then, all of the traditional authorities (also known as ‘chiefs’) stood to welcome guests. Each speech took around 10 minutes. After several songs, the preacher preached a sermon of 30 minutes (which was quite stirring even though I did not understand a word). Following the sermon we all stood and proceeded to make our way toward the burial place. Understand there was somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people all proceeding together in single file lines toward the burial site. In African society, when someone dies, everyone, in spite of relational proximity to the deceased, attends, eats with, mourns for, and comforts the family. If it takes all day, then it takes all day. I kept telling my friends that in America a funeral takes one hour, burial and all. We proceeded through harvested maize fields, trudging over the once thriving, tilled rows toward a patchwork of trees. It is amongst the trees that people are buried, protected. The graveside service is normally a complete replay of the entire service. But since it was by now already dusk, they proceeded with the burial as the beautiful amber sun set behind the foliage. We arrived home at 7:45 p.m. The funeral was 10 hours! Albeit longer than usual, this was a little taste of what African pastors, and Africans, experience on an almost daily basis.
posted by: Sam