Burial rites to separate the dead from the living

By Providence Maraneli

To some, burying the deceased is just interring the remains of a dead relative, while to others it is the final step to life after death.

The rituals differ, with the Sotho speaking people of Gwanda South performing rites to separate the dead from the living and their earthly possessions.

A grey haired elderly member of the village leads the pallbearers to the cattle kraal which is a stone throw away from the homestead and behind them is a sea of community members who are singing.

As soon as they reach the entrance of the kraal, there is a dead silence as the entourage waits for the village elders to bark instructions.

The leader of the entourage then calls the elder sister to the deceased and straight away she performs a ritual kneeling in-front of a coffin that is hung on the poles that make up the kraal gate.

The ritual, they say is meant to separate the deceased from his earthly possessions symbolised by cattle.

“A man is the owner of the cattle herd and he cannot be buried before he is shown his wealth and the day they don’t go to the fields . It is done also that the remaining may have wealth, said ThomasDube, Zendele Village Head,

But, it is not only treasure that is dear to a man’s heart as global statistics show that a man can kill for love.

As such he too needs to be separated from his soul mate.

And in the Sotho culture, the deceased’s spouse or spouses cover their faces like that of an eloping young girl in the village as a sign of respect.

“In the past before there was cloth , there was a hide meant for that. It is a ritual to show respect, the way that she repeated the husband when she eloped and it is the same in death,” added Dube.

As if that is not enough the elderly women have a role to play in making sure that the deceased is separated from his loved ones.

All the male figures are told to look aside as they perform their ritual.

“It has remained a secret among the ladies, but in essence we would executing a sacrosanct deed that is so important . If we don’t do that those left behind  will forever be tied to the dead,” explained Gogo Jane Ndlovhu.

Whether these rituals have a bearing on the departed or not, those left behind will never know, but one thing that can not be disputed is how the Sotho community has managed to preserve their culture even in the in the face of changing cultural dynamics .