Covid-19: Dead Zimbabweans lights fire to the UK authorities

Death and funeral rituals in Zimbabwe are deeply rooted in the cultural beliefs, traditions, and indigenous religions of the continent. They are guided by the country’s view of existence after death and the power and role of the deceased ancestor. Rituals evolved through the infusion of Christianity, Islam and modern changes, but traditional themes survive in Zimbabwe and among people of Zimbabwean descent in the United Kingdom. In Zimbabwe’s cultural belief rituals are to ensure that the deceased is properly put to rest so his spirit is at peace and he can take his place among the protective ancestors. Rituals are as much a celebration of the role of the dead as it is the mourning of his departure.
by Dr Masimba Mavaza

With this background Zimbabweans in the U.K. find themselves between the two evils. It is very much Zimbabwean thing to repatriate the body of your beloved back home for a proper snd sure funeral. There will be no closure if the burial is not done back home in Zimbabwe. Death and funerals offer a context that draws very interesting customary signals that define death, the dead and management of death. Death will show that there is a reconfiguration of identities in societies as they participate and respond to the funeral ritual in Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe’s common belief there exists an attempt to demarcate the dead from the living without necessarily questioning cultural belief systems as well as connections to the world of the dead who are culturally assumed to have assumed power of the spiritual. So the cultural belief about the dead shows the way the burial must be done.

Death is a serious business and the dead are so much respected and it is the way it has always been. Zimbabwean culture believes that the right” burial ensures that the ancestor doesn’t remain to haunt and exert power over the living, but instead rests in peace and protects the family.

Death rituals in Zimbabwe are to ensure that the deceased is properly put to rest so his spirit is at peace and he can take his place among the protective ancestors. Rituals are as much a celebration of the role of the dead as it is mourning his passing, of existence, with death seen as just another state of being. In death, the whole person still exists but now inhabits the spirit world and he can be reincarnated into several people.

With this belief hovering above our heads with its shadow in our hearts any other form of burial is frowned upon. So with the number of people dying in the U.K and having Zimbabwean being hard hit by the deaths relatives are encouraged to have the cremated to ease the pressure on the mortuaries. They are not allowed to repatriate the bodies home in Zimbabwe. Governments are following the advise from the World Health Organisation. (WHO) that those who succumb to Corona should not be repatriated. Besides such advise there are no flights to fly the bodies home they are all in lockdown.

Being buried abroad is viewed as un Zimbabwean hence the dilemma. Bodies can not be kept for long without burial. What has become to be known as a big sent off has been cancelled deleted and surely given a new meaning. Burials are limited to only ten people and people are not allowed to gather at any place so the funeral wake Zimbabweans had to get used to mourn on their own with relatives sending messages on Whatsapp and face book. It is now called click funeral.

Zimbabweans still believe that if the deceased is not buried “correctly,” or a person lived a life of dishonor, his ghost can remain as a part of the world of the living and wander around and cause harm. A dishonourable burial was kept for witches, sorcerers and the undeserving. In this way, they are denied the honor of being part of the community of ancestors, a place highly valued in African and Zimbabwe beliefs.

While we concentrate on one kind of burial there are diverse ethnic groups or tribes who have their variations of death rituals, within the same country. However, there are some similarities in basic themes because of shared traditional beliefs about the dead and reverence for the ancestors.

So the persuasion to cremate their beloved ones is facing very fierce resistance. Zimbabweans are used to a procession to the burial site, sometimes before sunrise, with singing and dancing. Many bury their dead on family land and the plot may be near the house but not on planting fields, believing crops won’t grow. The bereaved will be counting the number of the mourners so that they will tell those who will attend later that ” ahh vakachemwa wena mota idzi ungazodzida here” bereaved take pride in the number of those who attend the funerals. Now adjusting to five mourners and cremation is a slap across the face of every customary thinking Zimbabwean.

It is widely believed that at the burial people request a favor for the family, a strengthening of life, and protection from trouble from the deceased. There might be a ritual killing of an ox or cow so it can accompany the deceased to the land of his ancestors (“the home bringing”), and to act as a protector for the living.In the period before the burial, when community mourners arrive at the home, there may be loud distinctive crying. This may be heard at a distance. There is a well organised gathering of food and other supplies, cooking, eating, and assignment of tasks to prepare for the funeral.

Even this part is marked and becomes the talk of the village. So there is a very undeclared competition which has the results announced in the so called (“madziro committee”) a committee of people mourners sitting in small groups giving their verdicts of the whole funeral.While the committees are going on the family members are busy sorting out preferences some would prefer to bury their dead as quickly as possible so they can join the ancestors. Other tmay delay the burial until family comes from far away. Today, some people choose to store their dead in a morgue for weeks or months while they wait for family members to come, to collect donations, or plan a fancy funeral. This has been all wiped out by the Corona virus.

Death rituals for removing the body from the house to take to a morgue or the burial site are meant to confuse the dead so he can’t find his way back home or into the house too soon. So the cremation of the body is like burning your beloved and it is believed that the deceased will return with fire. Some believe that if you burn them they will not be resurrected when Christ comes again. Cremation has become a talking point in England now as public cemeteries are declared to have reached full capacity and population pressure on land making it difficult to dedicate more land for graveyards. Again the non availability of flights to Zimbabwe has added to the pressure of cremation.

However, even as the scarcity of flights pushes Zimbabweans to consider the option of cremation, cultural and religious perceptions have painted the practise in a negative light and term it “unAfrican.” It raises eyebrows with relatives if you accept cremation. While the influence of the Hindu culture has seen some people accept cremation, but majority of the people still opt to bury their dead in their ancestral home, in order to perform ritual and religious burial rites.

Because of Corona some funeral service professionals offer cremation services but not many people choose to use these services mainly because of traditional and religious reasons. The country, whose main religions is Christianity prefers burying their dead and not burning them.

There is a common belief in many cultures that when people die, they go to meet with their ancestors, and that the body of the deceased should be respected so that they arrive whole. So cremation becomes profanity and a hard pill to swallow.

It is typical for a death in Zimbabwe to bring the family, some of whom come from a distance, and the whole community together, Often, many community members attend the burial to support the family members.

In general, the immediate family remains silent during the burial rites and usually stands on one side of the gravesite, with the community on the other. This done to show the community the close family members. Now with Corona the whole script of the funeral will change and a new funeral order will come. Mr Calvin Nyathi a traditionalist from Zimbabwe said “In Zimbabwe culture when someone dies, people only talk about their good side even if the person was bad. This is a sign of respect for the dead and so cremation is difficult to embrace,” Martin Mahlangu from Birmingham said Cremation is a sign that you hate the deceased and you want to expose him to hell before he leaves the land. Cremation simply shows that you hated the deceased with a passion and you want to make sure that he is really dead.

So in Zimbabwe cremation remains an evil thing people have grown up knowing that a dead relative joins other dead relatives and they watch over the family members who are still alive. So this belief alone pauses a great challenge to the Zimbabweans in England whose families in Zimbabwe believes that the dead are just transformed cremation will be the evil they will never accept.

Cultural Zimbabweans believe that the dead relative can be consulted in times of need and can even mediate for them with God. This means that they would be unwilling to cremate a loved one. The catholic’s believe that the dead plays a great role in mediation and interceding. With such beliefs roaming freely in the brains of many Zimbabweans cremation will never be accepted.

The living will remain in fear of the dead. So they are not prepared to deal with vengeance spirit with burns all over. Cremation faced Most Zimbabweans in England and America now but the situation is the one dictating the pace and the direction.

Source – Dr Masimba Mavaza