Xhosa Funeral Traditions

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A letter from a Xhosa Grandmother to her grandchild explaining the traditions of a Xhosa Funeral.

So today I want to tell you about how we bury the dead and why we do this.
You will have seen us empty the house and make space for all the family that comes from all
We have to feed them, and they sit with us bezila nathi (they mourn with us).
As you know most of the time the funeral is on the second Saturday after the death and the
body will be brought to the house just before the funeral. Everybody must come to the day of
the funeral and many people give speeches.

On the day of the funeral or some time soon afterwards you have seen our elders go out and
buy a cow and slaughter it very early in the morning. The men cook the cow in big pots full of
boiling water and they do not add any spice. Then we all eat the meat, outside of the house.
All the meat must be eaten before any other food is served.

Our elders speak to the ancestors and we are all serious during this time. This is when we tell
you to keep quiet too. The dead person carries our messages to the ancestors so that they
remember us and do not forget to forgive us. In this way we send the dead person to their
new home, so that they can become a true ancestor. Our prayers help them find the way.
This we call, as you know, „UMKAPHO“.

Maybe you have wondered why we do this mainly for the men and not for the women. Well,
the women know the way, so they do not need help.
We put beer and meat and flowers and a white candle in the corner of the house. The beer
and the meat are for the ancestors to taste. The burning candle keeps the bad spirits away
that like to come to funerals. That is also why we burn imphepho.
(Some of us don’t like children to come to the funerals, because of the bad spirits, because
children can see more than the adults can, and they do not want you to be disturbed by
what you see. But I think if we speak openly to one another about these things children can
deal with them quite well.)
We must never burn our dead. We must always bring them back to the place they belong to,
so that they can be reunited with all the ancestors and sleep in the ground they were taken
There we put them into the grave. We also put food for them and their walking stick and
other things into the grave that they might need.
On the day after the funeral we like to sprinkle you and the adults as well with water and
herbs to cleanse you from any shadows you may have picked up.
The clan decides together how long ukuzila should be: Sometimes 6 months, sometimes 9
months, sometimes a year. The women have to wear black during that time and stay at
home. The men usually wear a black button or scarf.
At the end of ukuzila we women gather round the widow and bring her new clothes. We take
her old, black clothes off and burn them. Then we put the new colourful clothes on her. We
call this “„KHULULA IZILA“ (which means take off from mourning.) This is why we only ever
wear cheap black clothes during ukuzila, because at the end of ukuzila they get burned.
The men do not have this ritual.
After about a year or longer we hold as you know “UMBUYISO“. This is when we celebrate,
that the person who died has now become a real ancestor and has come back to us to help
and protect us.

We welcome him home. So we slaughter another cow. This time the women prepare the
meat with spices in the way the person would have liked. And we eat the meat inside the
house and celebrate together that they have come back to us.

Sometimes “UMBUYISO” and the unveiling of the tombstone happen at the same time.
“UMBUYISO“, we celebrate again and again. Whenever we have a dream about the person,
and they ask us for food or drink, we celebrate it, in their honours. It says “welcome home” to
the ancestors.

My dear umzukulwana, I have written a little today about how we bury our dead.
The important thing to remember is that they are just in hiding (this is what the Xhosa word for
funeral means) they cannot be seen, but they watch over us.

Suggested Graveside Sermon

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Funeral for Graveside Service

Memorial Services are in reality for the living and on such occasions they serve a three-fold service!

The First Purpose of a Memorial Service is to Remember the Deceased
A. Obituary Reading

The Second Purpose of a Memorial Service is to Comfort the Broken Hearted.

A. There is comfort in the memories of how __________ touched your life and made it different.
B. There is comfort in remembering that death is not the end.
C. There is comfort in knowing that you can see those who have a relationship with Christ again.
D. Our greatest comfort is found in Christ.

“When sorrow comes, as come it must,
in God man, must place his trust.
There is no power of mortal speech
The anguish of his soul to reach.

No voice, however, sweet and low,
can comfort Him or ease the blow.
He cannot from his fellow men
take strength that will sustain him then.

With all that kindly hands will do,
and all that love may offer too,
He must believe throughout the test
that God has willed it for his best.

…. No words which we have the power to say can take the sting of grief away.

That power that marks the sparrow’s fall
Must comfort and sustain us all.
When sorrow comes, as come it must,
in God man must place his trust.

… And only he may stand serene
who has faith on which to lean.”
.[Edgar Guest. One place it can be found is Sofine’s Edgar Guest Collection - www.sofinesjoyfulmoments.com/quotes/edguest.htm]

Jesus said, “come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
Jesus has promised through the writer of Hebrews, “I will never leave you ..nor forsake you.”
And it is through a relationship with Christ that we are able to say as the Psalmist, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

The Third Purpose of a Memorial Service is to Prepare the Living.
In reality we are not given a choice about whether to met death, or even when to meet death, only how to meet death. There is in the Gospel according to John a story recorded in the eleventh chapter that speaks to the situation we find ourselves in today. Here Martha and Mary’s beloved brother Lazarus has been sick and has died. Jesus’ words of comfort to this grieving family speaks to those whose hearts are heavy today.

Read (John 11:1, 17-27)
“A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha…. (3) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Master, the one you love so very much is sick."… (17) When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. … (19) and many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. (20) Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house. (21) Martha said, "Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. (22) Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you."(23) Jesus said, "Your brother will be raised up." (24) Martha replied, "I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time." (25) "You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, the Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. (26) And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?"
(27) "Yes, Master.

How to select the right funeral flowers

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

When you are giving funeral flower arrangements you are paying your last tribute to that person. And, for this reason, you should put a lot of thought into what you select. Make sure that your final selection reflects the personality of the person you wish to honor. Is it something that he or she would enjoy? It should be.
If the recently deceased liked the outdoors, incorporate natural outdoorsy pieces into the display. If the deceased enjoyed a certain type of flower, try to use those flowers in the arrangement. Tell the florist as much as you can about the deceased to help them to capture him or her in the arrangement. If you are completely stuck, ask the florist for guidance; he or she is likely to have images of traditional funeral arrangements on hand.

Flowers for a funeral do not have to be sent directly to the funeral home. It is perfectly acceptable to send flowers to the family's home.
This is the time to express your sympathy for the family of the deceased and sending your arrangement directly to their home might even give it a more personal feel. When should you send the flowers? There's no correct answer to this question.
You could send them immediately or wait a week or two. Flowers are meant to show your sympathy and, no matter when they arrive, the family will know that you have not forgotten—that's what really matters.

Traditionally, placing a tribute in or on a casket is a right reserved only for the close loved ones and family members of the deceased. If this is something you would like to be involved with, contact the family members of the deceased and ask if you might have the honor of contributing to the casket tribute.

The way individuals pay tribute to sympathy varies greatly. Each region is different and it's in your better interest not to make assumptions about which type of funeral flowers to send. Before choosing, ask your florist for recommendations. If you get lucky the florist might even know the types of flowers that others have ordered (including the family) and can arrange something complimentary.