By LAVONE V. HAZELL
Courtesy of www.funeralwise.com
Editor’s Note: This article is continued from the March 2-8, 2017 edition.
At times economics underlie cultural decisions regarding the funeral rite. One widow who was making arrangements summed up a pervasive feeling within the African American community saying, “After working so hard all his life, my husband didn’t have much to show for his efforts. The last thing I can do for him is give him a fine and proper burial.” With these words, she used his entire insurance policy on the funeral.
In more depressed socioeconomic communities, however, a traditional funeral would deplete the finances of an entire family. They may need a government subsidy or may be forced to choose a direct cremation or burial with an accompanying memorial service. This decision is very difficult for African Americans to make, particularly if the deceased held a major position within the family.
African migrants to the United States steadfastly hold on to their ancestral rituals in their funeral rites. Economics is a secondary factor for Africans, because the entire community is required to contribute to the expenses, food and necessities of the family. The higher the social position of the deceased, the more complex and expensive the funeral rite.
The wake is spread over many days: the funeral begins and ends with ritualistic drumming, singing and dancing and libation is poured as the priest speaks in the language specific to the common ancestry or geographic location of the family in Africa.
There is a procession following the services from the funeral site to the final resting place, with continued drumming, singing and dancing, or to the airport where the deceased is to be returned to “the Mother-Land” for burial with the ancestors. The role of the funeral director becomes more challenging without having the traditional guidelines of most religious services to follow, because there can be a spontaneous change in the movement and logistics of the funeral rite.
In African funerals, the members prefer the services to be directed by men, as is also prevalent in Muslim funeral rites.
Muslims and African migrants also prepare the deceased within the funeral home themselves; men prepare males and women prepare females.
The major difference in the funeral rites of the Muslims is the time span allowed from the death to the burial, with the custom of the Muslims requiring 24 hours.
Funeral rites are based more on ritual rather than economics or social standing within the sect. Embalming and cremation in both groups are considered taboo. The Muslims also turn the deceased to the East in the casket, arrange the funeral site with the chairs facing East and bury the deceased with the grave facing East to Mecca (The Holy Land). Most services are conducted in the mosque.
The funeral rituals are officiated by the Imam (Muslim religious leader) with specific recitations from the Holy Qur’an given by Muslim brothers while facing the casket. Viewing of the remains is strictly prohibited.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article will be continued in next week’s edition to cover other cultural funeral rituals.