Death and the celebration of life

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Death and the celebration of life Perhaps we should start to consider the celebration of life more than the mourning of death

The Herald

Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday
“Funeral iyoyo yakanakidza ndikuudze. Wati chikafu nedoro here? Mai ivavo vakachemwa, wanzwa?” says Eunice, my cousin Piri’s friend. By this, she is describing a funeral that she had attended as having been great fun.

There was plenty of food and alcohol at that funeral.

We are sitting in one room in Highfield. This is my cousin Piri’s home. It is raining again this weekend. But we cannot complain. We want the rain.

It just means we cannot go to the village as we often do because there is a particular place that is very slippery before we get to our village. Piri is frying meat on her single hotplate.

Eunice lives next door to Piri. She is a single mother of two and comes from Chikomba District. Her village is not too far from ours. She sells mabhero, second hand clothes from overseas.

Occasionally, I meet her when I visit Piri. Most times she is at Machipisa Shopping Centre, selling her second hand clothes and lingerie spread on a big plastic sheet on the pavement.

At night, she is often in the bar, drinking and meeting people.

“You missed a big well catered for funeral, I tell you. Beer was flowing like water,” says Eunice laughing.

She has a big bottle of beer in her hand. Piri is also drinking beer from a mug. It is 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday and these two have already started drinking.

“Who died? Was she family?” I ask. Eunice shrugs her shoulders and says, aiwa. No, the lady who died was not at all related to her. In fact, Eunice did not even know about the lady until the day of the funeral. But after the funeral, Eunice sits here on a stool telling us everything she knew about the lady.

Eunice is one of those regular funeral goers. You do not have to be invited to a funeral or a wedding in Highfield. You simply attend.

She says a guy from the vegetable stall in Machipisa mentioned that there was a good funeral not too far from Eunice’s rented place.

He said this was not a nhamo, meaning a funeral that shows poverty. No.

This was a real funeral, meaning the event will be well catered for in terms of food and drinks. Some dignitaries and other VIP were likely to attend because the lady who had died was a well-known resident of Highfield since the pre-Independence days.

She was in her late 80s and lived with her daughter and grandson in a big well renovated house. The old lady’s children were in the Diaspora, except the youngest daughter who had never married and cared for her mother.

The grandson played the role of master of ceremonies or the MC. During speeches, the grandson said his mother was based in the UK and she could not attend the funeral because her immigration papers were not in order.

However, she was able to collect money for the funeral not only from close relatives in the UK, but from Zimbabwean friends in her church.

But most of the money for burial came from her oldest son based in America. This American-based son had been here with his family to visit his mother at Christmas. He knew that his mother had cancer and the doctors told him that she was unlikely to live for more than six months.

The son from America then said good bye to his mother. He told her that if anything happened, meaning if his mother died, he would not be coming back for her funeral. Instead, he was going to come back later to do the celebration of life ceremony. So he talked to his sister in the UK and they both agreed to fund the funeral expenses.

Photos and videos were sent to them and they mourned their mother from abroad.

“They will come here sometime during the year to do a memorial or celebration of life for their mother,” says Eunice.

“I like this idea of mourning. It saves money and time. We are here to do the mourning for those who are in the Disapora. They should just send the money for food and beer. Tinovachemera hama dzavo tovavigira. We will mourn and bury their relatives for them.

“Ah, iwe, that is not very nice,” I tell her. But Eunice says, “Why Sis? You must move with the times. If you live in the Diaspora where we hear life is not easy, why waste money to buy a ticket instead of spending it on the funeral expenses?”

Piri says the Diaspora people must come to the funeral. They have to do body viewing and say a proper good bye. I cannot fully agree with Piri. In fact, I am personally troubled by the idea of body viewing. The last image of a dead person remains in your memory for a very long time. Why should that be the picture you keep?

Back in the village, there are people who do not even want to see the photograph of someone who died even if it is a long time ago.

One time in the village, I showed Majombo the drummer, an old photograph of his late father Nyakudirwa.

The photo was taken during a customary marriage ceremony of my sister Charity to Canisious Zishiri taken in the late 1980s.

Nyakudirwa was wearing red cap, the type Nigerian royalties wear. It was a classic photo of a tall handsome man in his sixties.

I enlarged this photo so I could give it to Majombo’s family as a gift in memory of their father who was a famous hunter and lover of meat.

I presented the photo to Majombo as he sat on the village bench drinking beer with my brother Sidney and others.

Majombo took one glimpse at the photo and quickly turned away. Then he closed his eyes and covered them with his hand.

“Kwete Chihera. Izvo zvakapfuura nenguva yazvo,” Majombo said, meaning do not show me the photo. The old man Nyakudirwa’s time is long gone and we should not revisit that time with memories of photographs.

Other people present said Majombo must keep the photo so his children and grandchildren can also see what Nyakudirwa looked like. But Majombo would not take the photograph. He said it brings sadness in his heart.

And yet, due to technology, we cannot erase photographs of our loved ones taken before they died. That record stays forever. We have good memories to celebrate the life they lived with us.

“We should change with the times,” says Eunice.

“If a person dies old, we should not be too be sad. During an all-night funeral wake, the church people can preach and sing. When they are tired, they should give room to the youth.

“These young people need a few beers and to get drunk so they can sing and dance all night. They take away the sadness out of a funeral. Close relatives can come later and do the celebration of life.”

Our Zimbabwean funeral has been transformed. In towns, the funeral is beginning to look more like a party instead of a mourning ceremony.

Only close relatives feel the pain of loss and they experience deep sorrow and grief. But for the many people who come to the funeral, this is like a party; a place to meet, eat, drink, dance, sing, socialise and make friends.

Some people even go as far as falling in love and they disappear to have an intimate moment at a funeral.

Such “mourning” would have been unheard of during the days when we were growing up in the village. People disappearing to make love at a funeral?

Perhaps, we should start to consider the celebration of life more than the mourning of death.

This idea will help us rejoice and remember the departed person’s successes, their relationship with others and their failures as well.

We can remember how they used to dance, work hard or offer advice to others.

This way we can also learn to accept that death is an inevitable part of our lives.

A celebration of life after death can bring us some joy and help us to accept that time is not for us to control. Nguva haisi yedu.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.

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