I received quite a lot of feedback on the topic I wrote about last week titled Revisiting the Culture of Funeral Gatherings.
Some readers responded with sharp criticism about the issues raised while the majority agreed that the new culture of funeral gatherings needed to be changed.
Ratherfort from Bulawayo said that funeral gatherings are worse in the rural areas where mourners disperse a week later.
“You can imagine the costs that are incurred. This has nothing to do with culture but it is people that are developing a bad attitude. People attend a funeral to console, not to be fed.”
Lloyd Mbiba had no nice words for the two grandchildren that demanded contributions from mourners when they ran out of food when their grandmother passed on.
He said they should have consulted elders within the family who could have solved the problem.
“Communication is an art that allows for people to express their ideas, and if one has lost a wife he should communicate with his family if he is experiencing financial constraints.
“The grandchildren had a point which they unfortunately failed to communicate properly. These silly children should have told the elders that food was now running short instead of demanding from them to buy.”
But the grandchildren in mention had exhausted those channels but none of the people in attendance came up with an idea as to how money would be realised to meet the food costs.
It is true that grieving in African culture is a collective family event which involves counselling and consoling the bereaved family, but this can also be a source of misery especially for those not conversant with culture and tradition.
There are so many instances where the bereaved have been made to meet certain demands before burial and these are sometimes so unrealistic because the issues at hand could have been dealt with by the person when he was still alive.
“That person may be a father who is now dead who, for example, had not finished paying lobola. The surviving children are then put under immense pressure to pay up. This delays burial as relatives demand settlement of the unfinished business first, but these very same people will in the meantime demand their daily food intake.
“That is most ridiculous. Because this minute they are acting as though they are strangers and the next moment they want a three square meal every day.
This is not exaggeration but a reality at many funerals,” says Miranda from Dzivaresekwa Extension.
Miranda said when her mother passed on, there was so much tension created by her maternal relatives who delayed burial by over a week because they wanted compensation for the domestic violence that she had been subjected to by her father.
“But hey the perpetrator of the violence is dead, so why blame us for that problem? The mourners literally stripped the kitchen of all contents. They nearly stripped the fitted stove and oven. Imagine. We were engaged in endless meetings which seemed to demand more and more things all the time.
“I am aware of the cultural demands when an adult dies, but should they not also consider the financial implications of the long delays? Why do people behave in a way that they would not want to happen to them? And these are people we are expected to fall back on when in distress. Never ever,” she said.
I was told of a widower who after being tormented by his in-laws following the death of his wife about 16 years ago, decided to bury his wife with the assistance of a funeral parlour.
This had happened after failed negotiations over compensation matters which had taken over two weeks. They just could not reach an agreement with the widower.
“The widower suddenly became uncooperative and spent the day sleeping in his bedroom. When relatives realised two days later that he had buried his wife alone, they threatened that their ancestors would deal with him in the spirit world.
“But his response was that he would be dead because he too was very ill from Aids which had killed his wife and two infant children. And true to his words, he did not last a year and he too was dead, but they had caused so much pain for this man and no one cared about his health and financial status,” said a close relative.
And sometimes after all the delays these people would have caused, they then demand money for bus fare back to their respective home areas.
“This trend is very common even at weddings. Some relatives will come to a wedding with an entire clan and expect to be given transport money back. That is something I cannot stand at all. Times have changed and people have to understand that money, especially the US dollar, is not so easy to come by and that is a fact.
“The notion that those living in the bright lights of the city are better off than those in the rural areas is just but an illusion. Let us mourn and bury our dead soonest in the interest of all. Some of the actions by mourners are driven by greed and that is all we can say. Why do they have to wait for death to settle scores with surviving family members?”
There was general agreement that these tensions were not necessary as these caused more pain and damage to relationships.
Funerals should be viewed as a period to reflect on life after the death of a loved one, and to celebrate the life of that individual.
But it is unfortunate that death could also denote death of finances with some people never making it back to where they were financially again.
But Mbiba still argues that elders should be respected regardless of financial status.
Isn’t that tragic?