Traditions of African-American Funerals and Burials — Past and Present Day

4 Posted by - October 15, 2018 - BLACK RELIGION, LATEST POSTS, RELIGION

African Americans in the south have always had traditional ways of handling funeral ceremonies and burials of loved ones. African Americans mark the final resting place of love ones in a unique way. In African religion, death is the last transitional stage of life and it requires passage rites, it was  believed this took a long time to be completed. The deceased had to  be “detached” from the living in order to  make a smooth transition to the next life. It was and still is common to use floral arrangements at funerals and at burial sites. During earlier burial years, personal property of the deceased was often placed on top of the grave. Some of the items often put on the graves were small emblems, toothbrush, cup, clock, toy, and many other items. A traveler who once visited Gabon observed that on the graves of the rich mourners often left life-pieces of cookery, knives, and even sometimes a table.

Putting items on a grave was more than an emotional gesture. It was believed by the Africans that the spirit needed these items to keep from wandering. Some graves in the United States south are also decorated with items such as white ocean shells and pebbles which represent the ocean, lake, or river. In South Carolina, nearly 40 percent of all slaves imported between 1700s and 1800s were from the Kongo-speaking region; their world of the dead is known to be underground but under water. In the Kongo-speaking regions white was a symbol of death not . During , African-Americans were not intruded upon by slave owners when burying their loved ones. It was the one time slave owners respected the African way of sending a loved one home. Even though many Africans converted to the Christian way, they held on to their burial beliefs. Christians normally do not believe that  items are needed to be left on the grave for a peaceful transition.

Other traditions from Africa do not allow children and unmarried adults to attend a funeral. During the burial the immediate family of the deceased is expected to remain together on one side of the grave  in a specific location; they were also forbidden from speaking or taking any vocal part at the funeral. After the funeral people would normally be invited to the  home of the decease for the funeral meal; this tradition is sometime used in the southern states of the U.S today. Many people follow a cleansing ritual at the gate of the house, where everyone must wash off the dust of the graveyard before entering the house. Sometimes pieces of cut aloe would be placed in the water; it was believed that the water removed bad luck. Churches that use “holy water” sprinkled people to cleanse them from impurity during this time. In southern Africa, the period of strict mourning usually continues for at least a week after the funeral. During this time, the bereaved stay at home, and did not socialize, or have sexual relations.

Also, when an African person died at home, some people believed the body had to be removed through a hole in the wall instead of through the door. The reason was to make it difficult for the dead person to remember their way back to the living, and the hole would be immediately closed. The body would often be removed by the feet first pointing away from the former place where they lived. But, there were also Africans who wanted to make it easy for their dead loved one to find their way home, so they buried them close by.

 

source:

https://www.funeralwise.com/customs/african_american/

http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/death/deathhistory.htm

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