When I said I was making funeral wreaths, that was my contribution to the funeral. Here, everyone gives of themselves not just at births and weddings.
Our neighbour in Mount Kilimanjaro lost his daughter and when the village found out, all his clansmen had a meeting. They distribute tasks according to their area of work. By the way, clan means tribe and is not restricted to the village. Wherever a clan member is staying, they make the time to come and help the family with the funeral preparations. It is understood that you don’t have to make an official request for leave of absence at work. Talk to your boss and in two minutes you can leave. The boss makes sure that they cover for you for as long as you will be needed by the family.
The women and those who professionally cook take over the kitchen for the next 7 days – all meals, not just for the family but for all the guests that will come to pay their respects. I’ve seen this happen in Kerala as well and even then, you see the family running around trying to organise the necessary logistics for running a burial ceremony. Here, people will have none of that. The whole village walks with you every step of the way – literally.
The reason they do this is that they believe that to grieve is a natural process that shouldn’t be put off till after the guests leave and you feel the loss completely. You grieve in public because that is the elephant in the room that people usually ignore by making light-hearted jokes and say things like “he/ she has gone to a better place”. When that happens, the person feeling the loss ends up feeling guilty because society is telling him that he should be happy that whoever has died “is with God” and is “no longer suffering like she had on earth”.
The culture here allows you to mourn without the guilt. They believe that every person fills a unique space in their heart – like a soul print – and when they are gone, they leave a hole which takes time to heal. In the ceremony that I attended here, they have a religious ceremony depending on their beliefs and then they bring the body home.
A representative of each group that attends then says a few words – either reliving a memory of that person or just passing on their condolences. He or she then walks up to the parents/family and gives them a long hug and allows the parents/family and allows them to feel the grief but also the love of the community. They also give, in an envelope, a small contribution towards the expenses of the funeral.
The most striking thing about a Tanzanian burial is that loved ones are buried in the compound of their house. They stress on the idea that you shouldn’t have to try to repress the memory or forget about the person who has died. They have and will continue to be important to you and so you have the right to visit them whenever you feel like it. They believe that true healing comes from being able to continue your work while acknowledging your loss as life changing at is, till the pain of the loss no longer stops you from doing a good job. It doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means that their memory fills in the gap that they left when they passed away.