Ugandan Death Traditions

by K-Dean

The Banyankole people believed that if any manual labor was done during the mourning period, it would bring a hailstorm.

The Banyankole people live in Southwestern Uganda. They did not believe that death was a natural phenomenon -they were under the impression that death was attributed to sorcery, misfortune and spite of neighbors. It was difficult for them to believe that someone would die unless they were under the influence of witchcraft, and after someone died their body would be taken to a witch doctor so they could determine who was responsible for the death.

The deceased’s body would stay in the house for as long as it took for all the important family members to gather. Burials were generally done in the afternoon and the bodies are always buried facing East. When a woman is buried, she would be laid on her left side – men are always placed on their right side when being buried. During grieving, every mourner would sleep at the home of the deceased. Manual work on days of mourning is prohibited; legend says that engaging in labor would bring a hailstorm to the village and destroy crops.

If the deceased had a grudge against someone before they died, they would be buried with objects to keep their spirit busy. This was supposed to keep the spirit occupied so it would not haunt the person they had a grudge against.

There are many rules when it comes to dealing without he death of someone who committed suicide. A grave is dug directly under the corpse so that when the body is cut down from a tree it will fall into the hole, but the only person allowed to cut down the body was a woman who had already experienced menopause. It is believed that the one who cuts the rope will also die shortly after. No mourning is done by relatives, and no funeral is held – the family of the deceased must uproot the tree and burn it. The relatives are not allowed to use any of the wood from the tree to start a fire.

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