This past weekend, I had the somber opportunity to go to the funeral (pithlong) of my host grandmother (mosadi mogolo wa me). She had passed away at my house a week and a half ago, though the funeral was in the neighboring village, where she was from. This certainly wasn’t a sad occasion because the dear lady was born in 1926, and lived a long life, full of love and family.
I was told a few days prior that we would leave at “half past six” because the funeral was a 6am. Yes, AM. I took “half past six” to mean half past five, thankfully, because that’s when my host father hollered at me to go. 5:30am on a Saturday…and it was already hot. Can you see why funerals are so early in the morning? My host father drove me to the next village and found Sele, my older host sister, to keep track of me all day.
Africa Moment 1: The women weren’t done bathing when I got there, so I was led into a room with 2 naked young ladies who were finishing their bucket baths. We had a normal conversation while they bathed.
Amazingly enough, the funeral started on time (remember-HOT sun). We gathered in the living room where the casket was for a prayer, then the ladies carried the casket out to the big circus tent outside, where the funeral was held. Many speeches (14-15) were held, with at least 1 hymn in between each.
Africa Moment 2: During on song, a dance party broken out. Actually, this happened several times. The priests and pall bearers started parading around the casket, dancing enthusiastically. One woman appeared to have an exorcism, though she might have just gotten really excited from the singing.
After 3 ½-4 hours of an ALL TSWANA service, everyone hops up and the pall bearers take the coffin to the hearse (pickup).
Africa Moment 3: Because a woman died, only women can carry the casket. These women were decked out in heels, dresses, choir robes, and animal print hats.
Africa Moment 4: The hearse pulls off towards the graveyard around the corner, and everyone in attendance follows in a long, umbrella-spotted line (hot sun, still remember?). We walk slowly to the graveyard, the women trying not to fall in their heels….on a lumpy dirt road.
Once at the graveyard, we hop around other graves and piles of rocks, which I assume cover unmarked graves. The coffin is lowered into the hole, and I seek shelter under an awning for the family as the men take over.
Africa Moment 5: My host Mom has me sit on her lap under the family awning, showing me off to everyone, I presume.
Africa Moment 6: As is typical in a Tswana funeral, the men are responsible for burying the body. As the women sing, dance, and clap, then men grab shovels and cover the casket.
After the body is buried, we all rush back to the house where a line has already formed for food. Funerals and weddings always have a similar, delicious menu: samp, rice, pap, beef, chicken, chakalaka, beetroot, cole slaw, and juice. I was seated in the living room, among all the matriarchs, in a place of honor. Sele brings me a plate of food and I scarf it down, as it I past 11am now.
Africa Moment 6: An OLD lady starts glaring at me, and jabbers at me in Afrikaans. When I finished eating, I offered her my seat and went outside to catch some air. She later follows me outside, glares, and jabbers at me in Afrikaans again. I ask another old lady, who says she thinks I am the shop owner’s daughter (who is white). I explain who I am and the women laughs and smiles.
Africa Moment 7: A goat runs through the funeral tent as the funeral winds down.
It was nice to get out and meet new people, and talk with some of the extended family. However, it was also tiring as EVERYONE wants to talk to this American. But I was happy to go because it made my host momma so happy!