I was visiting family in the country up north this last weekend. I had been planning to go there sometime in November, but when I was informed that the burial of a young relative would be last weekend, I firmed up my travel plans so that I could be there. For me, this funeral was not just going to be because I wanted to “mourn with those who are mourning”, but also to see a western burial.
Did I mention that I was invited, by name, to the burial? We arrived at the church about 30 minutes before time and waited for the service to begin. It was very quiet with only a few sniffles here and there until the coffin was brought in. The priest then came into the church and greeted the closest family members. The deceased’s parents and siblings then went up to the coffin, one brother said some words, put a wreath on the coffin and the family then sat down. Other families or their representatives then went to the coffin and did the same until everybody was done.
The pianist then played a song and some people sang. The priest said a few words, a couple of songs were played, everybody collected their wreaths and then we went to the graveyard outside. There was no viewing of the body (I was later told that this is done privately only for very close family members). The coffin was lowered into the grave and a cover was put over it (I was informed that the grave would be covered with soil the following day). The family laid wreaths and then they stood aside near the grave, then family representatives also brought their wreaths. After that we walked to the hall next door for a meal. The deceased’s parents and boyfriend shook the hands of everybody who came.
After the meal, three girls read cards that had been presented and then we had some desert/coffee. A couple of people played the piano while we were eating.
Not one person, not even the deceased’s parents, ever wailed at any time and the whole ceremony was extremely organized.
After the funeral a Zambian friend called in the evening because she was as curious as I about a western funeral. When she heard that there was no wailing, she immediately said maybe it was because westerners do not feel anguish or sorrow like Zambians. I told her that I had seen raw emotion at the funeral, people were hurting, the deceased’s parents were crushed. I said from what I saw, westerners feel the same grief as us ‘loud’ Zambians but just mourn differently.
Now, things would have been completely different had this been a Zambian funeral. There would have been wailing, maybe topped by someone accusing another of having bewitched the deceased. There would have been a lot of singing – I mean a lot! I can almost be certain that the program would have been behind time. In Zambia, we also do not wait to be invited. All you have to do in order to be there, is hear about the funeral/burial and you just turn up.
Is one kind of mourning better than the other? Not at all! We just do things differently, including mourning. I was surprised at the quietness of the ceremony and aftermath, and I suppose someone who had never been to a Zambian funeral before would be overwhelmed by the display of emotion exhibited by Zambians. We are just different, neither culture is better.