Monday, 25 January 2016

Funeral -redefined

We were invited to a burial this weekend. Not a funeral. The uncle of a close friend,  one of the last of the elders in his family had passed . He had been a big man in the community, well liked  and a significant influence supporting many members of  his village to go on to become educated.
Our friends, the daughters, nephews and cousins went off to the village of Mankwi early in the day to do preparations. A group of us volunteers shared a taxi and made our way off the pavement and into the mountains behind Bafut. The narrow road was dusty with occasional large rocks and a few potholes, squeezing to the side as an occasional taxi or truck roared past.  The views were majestic, through some seemingly unharvested forest, infrequent houses and a great valley falling away below to the mountain across the way,  eroded and scalped by the locals preparing to grow crops once it starts raining again.
Arriving in the village the road was plugged with pedestrians, parked buses and cars. Most folks dressed in their finest clothes, some in ceremonial robes and all the family we knew, wearing one fabric. As well there were choirs and women’s groups also all dressed in a "uniform" of colourful fabric making their way uphill to the church.
 Our friends welcomed us and insisted we head up to the church, along with  the continuous stream of arriving friends and relatives.
There were a few choirs,  the congregation sang,  eulogies and an overflowing building. But no lamentations.
After the service the coffin was driven down to the man’s residence where it was laid to rest in front of the house.
All around people were singing, greeting old friends and sharing food. We were offered the regional favourite Achu; cooked cocoyam with banana, wrapped in banana leaf. Unwrapped, it is spread round and round with flourish then formed into a mini bottomless bowl on the plate.  Yellow “soup” is ladled in and chunks of fish, chicken and/or beef placed beside. Normally eaten with index and pointer fingers much amusement ensues when I ask for a spoon. The spices in the sauce bear further investigation.

While our companions were busy snapping pictures, a parade of family and friends circulated through the room and through the village, meeting and greeting.
Outside we could hear  drums and after eating, walked down to where a dance group were performing surrounded by spectators.

What  a celebration of life! Everyone seemed joyous and friendly, although in the dancing there was occasional aggression and likely symbolic expression: Men shaking sticks and charging the circle of onlookers, occasional passionate arguing and of course the masked dancers posturing spinning, stamping their feet, ankles ringed with rattling seed pods.

No somber looks here, the pleasures of feasting, family reunion and witnessing the growth and maturation of children all speak to a culture focused on life and living.
And libation, the palm wine flowing freely, beer and carbonated sodas, men drinking from their cow horn cups, folks walking by in both directions with cases of beer, soda and jugs of mimbo.
During the dancing men were uncapping bottles and pouring it bubbling onto the ground amid shouts and clapping.
Back in the room where we had eaten, most of the Eco-builder  women's group began dancing with the folks from Betterworld  to the beat of a drummer,  practicing at first, with almost everyone in the room joining in.

I did my best to record their “entrance” weaving in among the celebrants down to the crowd at the main house where another group were dancing, circling the gravesite.

Our group stepped in once the others left. As I  filmed the dancers, everybody laughing singing and  having a good time I was struck by the lack of grief, the sheer exuberance and delight of the crowd. I managed to dance briefly as it wound down.
This was truly a celebration of life, the impact and deeply created connections of one man in community. It was inspiring. That’s what I want to happen when I go, no funeral for me,  instead family and friends celebrating the joy and appreciation for how well I lived my life.

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful, colorful event to mark the end of a life well lived.