Translator: MBEREMU ELISHA (Secretary to the Veterans)
Cultural Leader: MATYE KAHAMBA
Elder: NZABAKE JOEL
The office has an old calendar Nov/Dec 2013 and a couple of ties hanging up tied ready for wearing. The shelves are propped up with a piece of batten nailed to the wall. In the other room they are organising a coronation event for the Bakonjo king – the 48th.coronation.
What happens at a death ritual?
Depends on age. Above 60 they will cry after burial. Younger people different.
For the old person they alert the population by drumming in a rhythm of three beats repeatedly. This happens with a selected people of the older generation who handle the body by washing it. This is done as a mark of respect and that the person is part of us and secondly, they are going to join another society and must not be dirty for this. Then they put on new clothes and then people can cry and wail. Kings were buried inside the house whereas ordinary people were buried outside their houses. They often use bed sheets now but originally they used bark cloth because if was the most available material, not for any symbolic purpose.
For a man the funeral would last four days around the campfire and a woman three days. After this the people disperse. The family shave their hair. The first two days are silent while people are sad, the third day the musical instruments are brought along to keep everyone busy for the two days. They have their own songs relating to their death and if men their circumcision period otherwise they use general songs. They use drums, flutes and the xylophone – these traditionally are related to the spirits.
Playing the ‘sticks’ (which is done for different people) is done for the god that is invisible ‘Kitsambe’. The xylophone is played by five people, three one side and two the other.
There are people who talk to various supreme gods through the stick to attract their attention by playing the ‘sticks’. Its function is to call for help from the spirit.
The god of the earth and fertility is called ‘Nyabingyi’ (for crops) and the god ‘Nyabuya’ is for the fertility of women.
There is no special clothing at funerals but for weddings they wear bells on the legs, beads across their chest in a cross across the shoulders, back and chest, depending on who they are, and wear phoenix tree leaves as a shirt.
They only bury a person with something if they have yellow fever, and then they put certain leaves on top of the body and put him/er into the grave.
The trees on top are called muramura locally which are set in a circle. Graves used to be circular. This particular tree was used as it 1) was drought resistant 2) has no seeds & 3) doesn’t expand. It indicates someone is resting there even after hundreds of years. Yes it is medicinal, and culturally related – it keeps the demons away. The spirits have roots and believed can therefore travel, so these trees are supposed to interrupt the bad spirit’s highways, thus turning them away.
Now cement slabs are used on modern graves and often lined with tiles inside which is supposed to represent a house or shelter. For an old man a piece of fig tree, ‘Omudhoma’, (from which bark cloth is made) is planted there too as a sign that it is land belonging to him and his descendants, this is recorded in oral history. People can tell how long the land was owned by the growth of the fig tree there.
Originally it would have been a vertical burial because the females would dig it with only a hoe and would not have much strength to dig when the ground is hard. The body would have bent crossed arms and bent legs to make the body more compact. Kings and Mbandwa (cultural practitioners) would be given a stool to sit on (tree trunk section).
After the four days, other people and the maternal uncle, who is in charge of the next process or event, which is to burn the house down. They can so this within a time limit of 30 days afterwards. Now they cut the top part of the roof off and place it on the grave instead as it is too costly to destroy a more permanent house. This signifies that he is still at home. Then a shelter is built for the widow by whoever looks after the wife then eg. younger brother would inherit her and the older brother would act like a father to her.
People usually bring goats, cattle, money, food to help with the funeral ceremonies.
There are different plants used as totems by different clans, as well as animals. The Baswala is the king who rules over all the clans. The leopard is his totem as it is considered to be the king of the beasts. He told the story of how for another clan the baboon became the clan totem, as one day a leopard took a small child away and the baboon shouted at the leopard and so the leopard dropped the child in surprise and the baboon became the important animal to this clan. It is said that if someone from a clan kills his own totem he will develop a disease, which produces a scaly skin. Herbs are found on sacred sites and are powerful. If you brought it home you would be made to leave this place by its power eg. story of a marriage breaking up because of this wood being brought into the house, as one and then the other partner would have to move by compulsion, having caused an argument between them.
Then David and l went for a soda in the ‘White Garden’ restaurant that had nice box hedging…a bit of an oasis.