A couple weeks ago, rakgadi (my aunt) died. By aunt, I really mean my host mom’s late husband’s aunt. She was 99 years old. Rakgadi lived right next door so this was my first time experiencing all of the rituals leading up to the funeral. Funerals are held Saturday mornings. For the week before, they held prayers at 7 am and 5 pm. Family and other community members stayed on the compound round the clock. Women and men mostly sat separately. They set up this fence (pictured below) around a part of the compound. The men sat behind this around a fire. After prayer everyone was served tea and bread.
The prayers were held in a small house surrounded by
The women in white are the churchgoers.
At the 5 pm prayer service on Friday, the funeral home brings the corpse in.
When that is over, the women begin to prepare food that will be cooked around 9 pm. The cooks must prepare enough food for the hundreds of people who will inevitably come to the funeral. You do not need to be invited to a funeral in Botswana, so there is no real way to know exactly how many people to prepare for. Note: Mma Mosinyi (my host mom) is in front with the red dress on.
The cooking is such a huge undertaking. Some people stay at the funeral headquarters cooking until around 4 am Saturday morning. I was not much help cooking, although I did stay around until about midnight.
While the cooking preparations are happening Friday afternoon/evening, a few men are digging the grave at the cemetery.
Everyone comes back to the compound at 5:30 am if they want to view the corpse (their version of the wake). I returned at about 6:30. Pallbearers brought the corpse out from inside the house and set it in front of all of us under the tent. It was pretty cold that morning. I wore a traditional Setswana skirt (pictured below).
Then rakgadi was eulogized until about 7:30. We then all went over to the cemetery to bury her.
One thing about Botswana funerals that is different than those in the states, is that attendees usually do not show much emotion. Not many Batswana cry at funerals. In this case, rakgadi’s granddaughters were both visibly upset. It was almost beautiful to see the outpouring of emotion that isn’t always shown. Another difference is that everyone stays at the cemetery while men shovel dirt onto the grave and actually bury the deceased. And everyone sings church songs while this is happening. It is quite moving.
Then we eat! It is quite a site to behold with everyone on the compound. I helped the young women wash hands and serve food. It feels good to be useful.
All in all, the experience was amazing. It was interesting to see the cultural differences between Botswana and the US. I am always in awe with the number of people who help during events in Botswana. It is because the entire community feels responsible for things like weddings, funerals, and the rearing of children. It is a beautiful aspect of the culture here that I admire very much.