Reaching the Fathers

The second in a series of guest posts which consider the question, ‘What is the purpose of a funeral?’ by Jenny Uzzell

The first ‘purpose’ of funerals that I am going to consider is the one that, arguably, has the least relevance to most people in the modern western world. For most of human history there has been a tacit assumption that funerary rites are an efficient cause of change of some sort on a spiritual level. In other words they ‘do something’ in the supernatural world. Either they ensure the safety, survival or wellbeing of the person who has died in the afterlife or they protect those who are still living from an otherworldly threat. 

While there is some evidence (albeit hotly debated) for funerary ritual even before the emergence of Homo Sapiens, we cannot make more than an educated guess about the meanings of rituals and the beliefs associated with them until we are into the historical period and can read about what our ancestors thought they were doing. Even then it is no easy matter to be sure about what the funeral was expected to achieve. 

The ancient funerals with which we are most familiar are, perhaps, those of Egypt. In the Old Kingdom it is not clear what afterlife expectations, if any, were held by the majority of the population. Only the Pharaoh, already partially divine even before his death, was assured of an eternal life as an aspect of the sun god Re. The soul or ba of the king made a perilous voyage to the Duat or underworld where it joined Re and so helped to preserve the future security of the kingdom. This apotheosis was a dangerous and complicated affair and could only occur if the funeral rituals were carried out with precision. The pyramid itself (sometimes referred to as the king’s ba or as his ‘horizon’) may have been a complicated piece of supernatural machinery designed to facilitate the Pharaohs transformation into a god. 

By the Middle Kingdom the afterlife had become far more democratised and everyone expected to access the Duat after death. Literature of the period uses euphemisms for death that tell us much about Egyptian attitudes. Egyptians often refer to finding a ‘safe harbour’ or to reaching their father safely. This life was seen largely as a preparation for the next, and so to invest a large proportion of one’s wealth in securing a good afterlife seemed quite rational; after all, the next life will last much longer than this one. 

Egyptian belief of this period was very complex. The human in the otherworld was comprised of the ba (similar to our idea of ‘soul’ this was, essentially the personality) the ka (life essence or vitality) and ankh (intellect). The ka needed to be sustained with food and drink offerings and needed a place to live. This was the mummy, which had to be recognisable so that the ka could find it easily. Many tombs have a false ‘ka door’ through which the spirit could come and go. Only if all three of these elements elements were successfully reunited by the funeral rites could the person live again. It was therefore imperative that the rituals were carried out with absolute precision; the right words, pronounced correctly at the right time and accompanied by the right action. This could only be performed by highly trained priests who held an honoured position in Egyptian society since it was only through their skills and knowledge that one could hope to live again after death. The purpose of the funeral was to ensure the continued life and well-being of the person who had died. This in turn served the living who could expect their sons to do the same for them and ensured that the ancestors, well fed and cared for, would look out for them in this world. 

All of this seems a far cry from the modern world, and many would argue that most funerals today do not aim to bring about a real change to the person who has died or to those they leave behind, but many modern traditions actually grew from such beliefs and there are those for whom this is still the most important aspect of a funeral. 

Another ancient culture for which the funeral was crucial for the well being of the whole of society was Vedic India and it is to this that we will turn next.


A eulogy sandwich is not enough to nourish grief

As Jenny Uzell embarks on a series of posts which will consider the knotty question, What Is A Funeral For? it’s worth reflecting on what has been a game of two halves, funeralwise, in the last fortnight. Two people have expressed contrasting approaches to a funeral.

First, there was Dave Smith, who arranged the funeral of his daughter, Hannah, the 14-year-old who committed suicide after being bullied online. Desperately sad though this was, Dave wanted the funeral to celebrate Hannah’s life, and he asked mourners and relatives to wear colourful clothes, onesies, her favourite garment, in particular,  to reflect Hannah’s joie de vivre.

The church was decorated with purple and white balloons, photographs of Hannah, and a poster that read “Be Happy for Hannah”. Purple was Hannah’s favourite colour. Her coffin was purple. Her father did not want her to travel in a hearse, so he brought her himself in a blue Audi 4×4. The coffin was carried into church to In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins. The service was conducted by the Church of England vicar, the Rev Charlie Styles, who described the proceedings as informal and relaxed. Four hundred people came.

Hannah’s was a very zeitgeisty funeral, highly personal, focussed on positives. There were tears, yes, and there was also laughter.

At the other end of the scale, over in Ireland, the bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith, courted howling and outrage when he restated the Catholic church’s doctrinal ban on the personalisation of funerals. He outlawed eulogies. This embargo seems to be restated in a newsworthy way in a more or less five-yearly cycle. Since compromise is impossible, it is one that looks set to keep on coming round.

The good bishop’s rationale for resisting what he calls the dumbing down of funerals accords with Catholic dogma. In his words:

“The context of the funeral Mass in the church should be focused entirely on the celebration of the Eucharist. What we’re trying to do is focus on the essence of the Christian funeral rite. The essence is, of course, two things. One is to support the family, through prayer and the community, but also the other function of it is that we support the person on their journey to salvation. What we are trying to do then is maintain the integrity of the Eucharist.”

Can’t argue with that, can you? If you want to belong to the club, them’s the rules.

Both Dave Smith and the Bishop of Meath have very clear ideas about what they think a funeral should aim to accomplish, and how it should achieve it.

But the good bishop has other things to say about funerals that may be relevant to all of us. He says:

“I suppose that people’s understanding when they hear about a funeral is that they focus entirely on the funeral Mass but the rites of Christian funerals begin long before that. You have the vigil for the deceased, the wake house and the removal and, of course, the prayers of commendation at the graveside. So we’re saying look, there are opportunities for family members who want to pay a personal tribute to the deceased.”

He’s got a point, hasn’t he? Why do we feel that farewelling and remembrancing have to be packed into brief, bulging crem slot, leaving so much to be said in short order that, in order to get the biography recited and the grandchildren named, a celebrant must, with one eye fixed on the clock,  zoom through a script at 360 words per minute, ruthlessly fading the music for prayer and/or reflection on the way?

Why do we place so much of a burden on the single event of the funeral ceremony? After all, there’s the time before it, as the bishop says. And there’s time afterwards — oh god, all that time afterwards.

That’s the time we need to focus on.

Secularists are neglecting to develop a case for the introduction of practices and rituals either side of the ceremony which might promote both good remembrancing and, also, the emotional health of bereaved people. This is probably why no celebrant association has made a public statement in support of the e-petition calling for statutory bereavement leave. That they haven’t is nothing short of astounding.

The Jewish practice of sitting shiva is a brilliant example of the sort of practice I’m talking about. For seven days following the funeral, the close family take a complete time out — stop the world, I want to get off: “The mourners experience a week of intense grief, and the community is there to love and comfort and provide for their needs.” Find more here.

Jews mourn in a structured way for a year. Shiva is followed by three weeks of schloshim, a less intense mourning period, followed by further regulated re-entry into the world. 

Like all rituals rooted in belief systems that have developed over hundreds of years, Jewish mourning is characterised by a thicket of impedimental ordinances, many of which strike outsiders as completely bonkers or, where gender equality is concerned, utterly unacceptable. For all that, the degree of difficulty they present is at the heart of the solace they offer. My friend Graham is presently saying the mourning kaddish daily for his father. It’s a short enough prayer. Translated, it reads:

Magnified and sanctified be God’s great name in the world which He created according to His will. May he establish His kingdom during our lifetime and during the lifetime of Israel. Let us say, Amen.

May God’s great name be blessed forever and ever.

Blessed, glorified, honored and extolled, adored and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, though God is beyond all praises and songs of adoration which can be uttered. Let us say, Amen.

May there be peace and life for all of us and for all Israel. Let us say, Amen.

Let He who makes peace in the heavens, grant peace to all of us and to all Israel. Let us say, Amen.

Graham could mutter this while he waits for his kettle to boil or just think it as he brushes his teeth. But he’s not allowed to do that. No, he’s got to leg it down to the synagogue and recite it every day without fail at teatime in the presence of a minyan, a quorum of ten adult males. As a result, it rules his day. Everything is built around it. If he’s away on business he has to contact a synagogue before he’s even booked his flight in order to assure himself that there’ll be a minyan ready and waiting for him. Graham’s a man who has not been as observant as he might have been, in the past, but he’s doing his bit for his Dad, whom he loved. It’s hard work, he says, and it’s doing him a surprising amount of good.

Unglamorous work, isn’t it? Saying kaddish doesn’t fit with all those culturally untranslatable fun customs Brits get so bedazzled by, like the Dia de los Muertos (nobbut a lot of facepainting and larking about over here). Kaddish reminds us that mourning is a matter of hard yards.

The eulogy sandwich served up by celebrants is all very well in its way, but it’s not enough to nourish grief.

POSTSCRIPT: Jews are pro-eulogy. Here’s the halakhic ordinance:
Delivering a proper eulogy (hesped) is a major mitzvah. The mitzvah is to raise one’s voice and to speak heartrending words about the deceased in order to arouse the weeping of the audience, and to mention his praises … If one is negligent about the eulogy of an upright Jew one does not live long and is worthy of being buried alive.

It is forbidden to exaggerate excessively in praising the deceased. However, one is permitted to exaggerate slightly, as long as one does not go too far. If the deceased had no good qualities, one should not mention his character … If one attributes good qualities to someone who did not possess them at all, or excessively exaggerates the good qualities he had, this causes evil to the speaker and to the deceased.

What would you like to see on your TV?

When media people phone the press office here at the GFG-Batesville Shard, their requests for information often conform to whatever they suppose to be trending.

“We’re doing something on living funerals. Are these catching on?”


“We’re doing a documentary about the dying process and we want to film someone actually dying. Can you help us?”


“Arranging a funeral?”


When they say they want to expose malpractice, we urge them to shine a light on good practice, too, in the interest of fairness and balance.  We can introduce you to lots of good undertakers, we say. They always promise. They never do.

Today we received an enquiry about the growth of professional mourners in the UK. We replied a little perfunctorily that there hasn’t been. Actually, there’s an outfit called Rent A Mourner but we’ve always thought it must be a spoof. Have you ever encountered a professional mourner? We thought that would be the end of it.

But the enquirer, Malcolm Neaum of CB Films, pursued the topic on a broader front. Are British funerals being in any way cross-fertilised by multiculturalism, he wondered. And it’s a good question because, even though they haven’t to any remarkable degree, we have from time to time, on this discount cialis coupon blog, discussed the desirability of respectfully and gratefully adapting rituals and observances from other cultures with which to enrich our own ‘secular’ funerals, many of which are beautifully and expertly scripted, but are characterised by a DVT-threatening inactivity on the part of the audience. Funerals are going to go on evolving. The question is whether they are going to evolve in the direction of elaboration or extinction. 

Malcolm is keen to make a documentary about funerals — has been for some time. He tells us: I’ve been working in documentaries for 15 years and have never been able to get a commissioning editor interested in even approaching the topic of death.’ 

He adds: ‘My grandfather died last year and I can’t help but feel that so much of the symbolism and power has been stripped from a modern day funeral. Hopefully, an interesting programme may be an opportunity to you explore the funeral ritual in modern times.’

Malcolm has asked me to ask you what you think. What could he most usefully make a programme about? 

It’s a rare thing to be asked what we think. I hope you will tell him. He says, ‘it’s very exciting to think what we will hear back.’ 

Go on: excite him!

Circling once more

India’s Zoroastrian community is breeding vultures so that it can once more dispose of its dead atop Towers of Silence. 

Once vulture rich, with a population of around 400 million, India has seen a steep decline caused by poisoning. The vultures have been consuming painkilling meds administered to cattle. Their decline to a few thousand has compelled Zoroastrians, or Parsis, to opt for cremation instead. 

Zoroastrians believe that corpses are a pollutant which injure the elements, which is why they should not be consumed by the earth or by fire.

Now, vultures supplied by the government are to be bred in aviaries. That they will be able to eat corpses will save large sums of money in food bills. 

Before they are laid out, Parsi corpses must be certified free of diclofenac, the painkiller which also kills vultures. 

The slideshow above shows Parsi priests honouring their dead, each of whom is represented by a vase of flowers. 


No more faking it

A fine feminist manifesto here from Grace Mutandwa in the Zimbabwe Standard:

A group of my female friends are tired of being stuck in the house during funerals while their boys hang out at the shops and do fun things.

The girls want to know why it is cool for the boys to visit the local bottle store and swap war stories while the girls alternate between cooking, serving food and wailing like banshees. And they do not want the usual spiel about tradition this or tradition that!

Why is it all cool and dandy for the guys to stroll around in controlled emotion while women are expected to wail in show of pain and grief?

If a woman does not cry, she is labelled cold or a witch. And if tradition is so important, why is it that men who lose wives can remarry as soon as they can no longer bear living without a moving cooking, laundry and cuddling machine while women are expected to grieve for a year?

Is it really necessary to have a bunch of women thrashing about in feigned grief while the men get on with their lives?

Why do widows have to be stuck at the head of the corpse, but when a woman dies the husband gets to sit outside with his buddies? For all we know the reason why most men quickly remarry might be because while all the women are stuck in the house wailing, the widowed man and his buddies are busy going through their little black books trying to hook up the “grieving” hubby with some hot mama!

I get grief, but what I do not get is the need for whole extended families to hurl themselves into group mourning therapy even when they hated the guts of the dead relative.

Wouldn’t life be easier if we were a bit more honest? I am not saying that you should insult someone or say nasty things about the dead, but do we really have to lie? If someone is dead, they are dead — period!

There are films that bring tears to my eyes but I really find it difficult to cry at every funeral I attend. If I am not close to the person, I just feel faking it is the worst thing I could do at someone’s funeral. I get faking orgasms — many women play that card once-in-a-while (and it is a humane act, it protects men’s egos) — but faking tears is really beyond me.

When the husband dies, the tears might represent real grief or great relief and pure joy that they are free at last!

I am a ruddy realist and will be the first one to face up to the simple fact that by the time one spouse dies, most couples will have been transformed into two strangers sharing bills and helping each other raise children. So if you catch my drift — it really would be hard to shed tears for a stranger, even one that you occasionally shared body heat with.

I know apart from pretending to be a nice person, we sometimes have this uncontrollable urge to attend a particular funeral just to make sure the person is really dead.

More here

Tattoo – A friend in death?

The Rise of the Maori Tribal Tattoo

By Ngahuia Te Awekotuku
University of Waikato, New Zealand

Body adornment – swirling curves of black on shoulders, thighs, lower back, arms, upper feet, rear calves – has become an opportunity for storytelling as well. Some symbols represent children born, targets reached, places visited, and increasingly, memories of special people who have passed away.

In August 2006, Te Arikinui Dame te Atairangikaahu, affectionately known as the Maori Queen, died after a long illness.

Her people were devastated. Many wanted to commemorate her in a special way, and 16 women chose to memorialise her by taking a traditional facial tattoo. I was humbled to be one of them. There are now more than 50 of us, mostly older and involved in the ceremonial life of our people. It is a fitting memento mori.

But moko, most of all, is about life. It is about beauty and glamour, and its appearance on the bodies of musicians such as Robbie Williams and Ben Harper is not unusual. Although it is often contentious, raising issues of cultural appropriation, and ignorant use of traditional art as fashion.
However we must also acknowledge that Maori artists are sharing this art – they are marking the foreign bodies.

The important reality remains – it is ours. It is about beauty, and desire, about identity and belonging. It is about us, the Maori people.

As one venerable elder stated, more than a century ago, “Taia o moko, hei hoa matenga mou” (Inscribe yourself, so you have a friend in death).

Because it is forever.

Read the whole article published on the BBC website September 21st 2012  here

Posted by Evelyn

Hot and noisy

From time to time we consider the purpose of a funeral as an event which enables mourners to express complex, disorderly emotion. Funerals in  countries untouched by, or resistant to, chilly Nordic Protestant norms of self-restraint are notable for an exuberance which chilly Nords tend to regard as unbefitting, chaotic and emotionally incontinent.

It’s not as if chilly Nords don’t experience emotion. Why do they bottle it up? Perhaps it’s that they don’t like what it does to them. 

Remember the polarisation of reactions to the grief for Diana? 

Consider, also, the tendency of Brits to ugly brutishness when they let their hair down, especially when they’ve a drop taken. Perhaps they are right to keep it bottled. 

In Taiwan and parts of China funerals channel strong erotic emotions. We’ve looked at this before. Here’s some interesting info from Business Insider

Dressed in mini skirts barely covering their hips, the two girls took to the neon-lit stage and moved vigorously to the loud pumping pop music. Their job: to appease the wandering spirits.

As the temple facade in the background changed colour from the fireworks lighting up the Taiwanese night sky, the show climaxed with pole-dancing and striptease in front of an audience consisting of men, women and children.

Folk religion in Taiwan is a unique mixture of the spiritual and the earthly, and one of its most remarkable manifestations is the practice of hiring showgirls to perform at festivals, weddings, and even funerals.

“The groups attract crowds to our events and they perform for the gods and the spirits to seek blessings,” said Chen Chung-hsien, an official at Wu Fu Temple, a Taoist landmark in north Taiwan’s Taoyuan county.

“They have become part of our religion and folk culture.”

[Some] see it as a natural extension of a traditional folk culture lacking in the sharp separation of sex and religion often seen in other parts of the world.

Marc Moskowitz, an anthropologist at the University of South Carolina, said the practice evolved out of the special Chinese concept of “hot and noisy”, which brims with positive connotations.

“In traditional Chinese and contemporary Taiwanese culture this signifies that for an event to be fun or noteworthy it must be full of noise and crowds,”

Full article here. Two videos here

How they do it in Zambia

In a delightful article in the Sunday Times of Zambia titled Food at Funerals in Zambia, which doesn’t actually get around to talking about Zambian funeral food at all, the writer describes current funeral customs in that country. 

In the countryside, the old customs are alive and well: When death occurs, news spreads very fast. It just takes one or two full-blooded women to wail lungs out. Thereafter, people from all walks of life will gather to commiserate with the bereaved, even when the dead person might have been their ‘worst’ enemy – death is death! It is to be feared! It is an equaliser, people unite, and no arguments arise about its inevitability – some call it ‘kukomboka’/knocking off!

In towns and cities, funeral traditions display western influences, though it’s difficult to see what they are. The following is extracted:

Inevitably the web of all known relatives will also be used to communicate the sad news, and before you know it they will converge at the funeral house from all corners of the country.  

The grief-stricken closest relatives – parents and others – sit on the floor, mourning, and sobbing in the living room. As relatives arrive they start mourning with a rising crescendo; some may even roll on the ground in their lamentation. 

Duties, especially in the area of feeding of the mourners, will be given out. Customarily, the kitchen brigade is made up of traditional cousins of the deceased.

As the food is being prepared the brigade members will pass jokes and make a mockery of the deceased family who by an ‘unwritten law’ cannot ‘hit back’ then; they will bide their time until perhaps when a funeral occurs in the ‘attackers’ family. This is not ill-intentioned but the practice has its roots in history when the Ngonis and the Bembas fought pitched battles, with no clear victory for either side. Consequently, the truce that followed sealed an enduring peace to this day.

Now enter the professional mourners! In fact there are three main types of professional mourners: the first type is made up of people with their ears to the ground and are usually the first to learn about any funeral that takes place anywhere. They usually arrive first and kick up a raucous of loud mourning enough to wake up the dead. They then find their way to the place nearest where the food is being cooked. This is the real reason they attend funeral after funeral.

The second type of professional mourners is the story-tellers. They will behave like the first group, except that as they tear at their hair and amid sobs and copious outflows of grief they will tell cooked up stories about the deceased. For example they would say that the deceased was a good person, their late uncle, who had managed to educate most of his nine children, now who was going to look after the remaining three younger ones? Yet in fact there were no children, the marriage having taken place only two weeks ago! When all is said and done, the story-teller makes a beeline for the nearest food spot, consuming big potions so as to catch up with those that started eating earlier than they did.

Then topping the bill are some relatives who will mourn in a special way, punctuating the sobbing with pointed comments about the property: “What shall I do with the Toyota Cressida you have left behind? I don’t know how to drive.”

Another relative might answer: “Mutale will be driving you, my sister.” Or, “The deep freezer… It’s so big. How will I take to my village? No Zesco there!” The answer might be: “Just sell it and we can share the money.”

Such a parody of mourning can go on and on until all the property is shared in this manner or until after the burial when during the ending rituals (Isambwe lya mfwa: kutsiliza maliro) a brave/wise uncle will put a stop to the squabbling. Where there is no wise person all the property will be taken away and later the case will end up in court.

Full story here

Where fresh air strikes openly and freely

In Namibia, Michael M Liswaniso, writing for, deplores the new custom of spraying air freshener at funerals. 

I will start by saying: Eish no please, enough is enough! It is partly inhumane and implies that our loved ones smell when we use air fresheners moments before we lower the coffin into the ground.

I have attended numerous funerals in this country but I have never seen anybody who stands next to the coffin and sprays it with some fragrances in the name of ‘Airoma strawberry’ or any other just to wind down the so-called ‘filthy smell’ emanating from the deceased inside the coffin.

That was until I attended the funeral of one of my close family members. I did not appreciate what I saw. The same thing happened at least at five different funerals in my mother’s town.

I know that when we die and are kept in the mortuary for several days – our lifeless bodies are likely to start disintegrating to an extent that they could partly smell, especially if the morgue is not functioning properly. But such a scenario is unlikely because of the hospital personnel who work hard to keep mortuaries in good working condition.

But to my surprise, most communities in Caprivi and funeral undertakers in some parts of the country have added the ‘air fresheners’ to their shopping list whenever they are to bury their loved ones. Apparently this is done to “avoid the bad smell at the final resting place of the deceased”.

Now, this is what perplexes me totally.

In all the funerals or burial services I attended in Caprivi and other parts of the country, there was no reek of any kind from the coffins. Yet, people continue to spray the coffins even during the funeral service in the church.

The practice distracts the mourners from paying attention to the service, disrupting the entire funeral service.

“Our morgue is always in a bad state that’s why many families have resorted to buying air fresheners at funerals just to avoid a bad smell emanating from the lifeless bodies of their loved ones,” said one source.

I find the practice disrespectful in the sense that even if there is really a bad smell, an 180 ml can of air freshener would never surmount the smell? I do not think so, given the fact that burials take place outdoors at cemeteries where fresh air strikes openly and freely. In addition, air fresheners are mainly meant for indoor ‘isolated’ areas – maybe at a memorial service in the church but still ….

“I saw it for the first time but we don’t do that in my tradition. It is really being disrespectful, it would even imply that the deceased is even stinking to the extent that even a dead dog with maggots is better while in actual fact that is not the case – we are human beings,” – these words came from a friend of mine who accompanied me to a funeral recently.

I have seen and heard of several people who have complained about the practice but the ‘new’ tradition seems to have found a new permanent home in Caprivi and other parts of the country.

My humble suggestion is for people to leave the deceased to take their last journey. Why not then bath our loved ones for the last time, and dress them in their favourite attire and let them wear their most ‘expensive’ perfumes that they might leave behind?

I guess this will help instead of letting one person spray around the coffin for several hours at the gathering. I hope this will assist, if not, then let’s look at other avenues that might work. Until next time, I say Kozo! Eewa

Kicking the bucket in Swaziland

The Times of Swaziland is in a lather about deceaseds, feckless young men and undertakers. Terrific stuff, this.

They could care less how they lead their sorry lives. 

All they want is to get a great send-off when they ultimately kick the proverbial bucket.

It’s so discouraging.

Funeral undertakers are having the time of their lives, as a result – if you excuse the pun.

They are taking full advantage of the sad situation and making a killing – if you forgive me for using a pun yet again. 

Everyday, we are bombarded with advertisements of good funeral packages and phone numbers of the right people to call in the event you die.

You wonder if you will even be capable of making phone calls in that state. They do not care. All they want is your money, dead or alive. 

I say ‘dead or alive’ because these shysters will break everything down to you nicely, offering you attractive funeral plans for which you pay as little as E2 per day or whatever.

They are beaming those adverts to able-bodied men, women and children who still have their whole lives ahead of them. 

They want you to start planning for your funeral long before you get diabetes or are start walking around crime-ridden areas like Mbhuleni at night.

They want you to pay and pay and pay…long before you die.

When you die, they will make quick calculations and find that you had contributed at least E19 275 in total to their coffers over the years. 

Your reward? E10 000 as a lump sum for you to have a dignified funeral; well-serviced hearse to take you to the cemetery, clean-shaven and energetic young men to drive you there and set up the tent, a casket with bronze handles and more of the same. 

At the end of the day (or your life), you would have made a loss of over E9 000!

I have always had a problem with funeral undertakers – and the people who fall for their tricks hook, line and sinker. 

But seriously…why can’t everyone concentrate on having a healthy and rewarding life? Why should we only be concerned about funerals? Is death now more important than life?

Take these young men who drive around in Golf Velocity hatch-backs, for instance. 

We all know how they struggle to keep those cars clean by taking them to the carwash every other day (they would be caught dead washing the vehicles themselves). They struggle to have enough money for petrol but are always behind the steering wheel. 

They are putting up appearances, mostly to impress those impressionable girls and good-for-nothing women. Back home, they have very empty refrigerators. They neither have pots nor plates and the only thing in their cupboards are cockroaches. 

Even though they have several children from different mothers, most still live in their parents’ houses, making you wonder where they do the nasty business of procreation.

These young men could care less how they live. They have no ambition whatsoever but when the adverts for ‘dignified funeral plans’ come on while they watch TV, they sit up straight.

Having a grand funeral is all they live for. 

That is probably why funerals have become events where folks parade the latest fashion trends, turning up in expensive suits, shiny shoes and designer-label sunshades.

Many make sure they arrive in big shiny cars. 

They hire them from car-rental companies if they have to – anything for a dignified funeral.

Four young men from my village back in the bundus were abandoned by their father at a very young age. He never cared whether they went to school or not. He did not know what they had for supper on any given day and could care less what they wore.

Their mother decided to leave for South Africa where she had relatives.

She tried hard to scrape a dignified life for her children and they grew up to be respected citizens. Then their father back home died. They did not want to go to the funeral but relatives spent tens of Emalangeni worth of airtime convincing them. 

They decided to come but chose to arrive a few hours before the actual funeral.

This meant arriving late at night to join the loud and cheerful Zionists at the vigil. Yes, I said ‘cheerful.’

When time came for the funeral procession to proceed to the graveyard, everybody was given the chance to pay their last respects by getting a glimpse of the deceased lying ‘in state.’ 

That was the cue for the four young men, who seemed to have rehearsed their next move.

They ran towards the expensive coffin and started kicking it with their Nike trainers. They kicked it on the sides, jumped on it and kicked it again. It was about to crumble when community police arrived to calm them down. The gentlemen from the well-known funeral under-taker could only watch in dismay as their dignified funeral turned into a tragic circus. 

While kicking the coffin, the man’s sons were repeatedly shouting, “You fool, you failed to take us to school but had money for such an expensive coffin?” Then you say you want a dignified funeral? Get a life!