Funeral Traditions in Tanzania

by T-Knox

The relatives remove the dying person from the main house to a temporary hut built by the family about fifty feet away. Burial takes place the same day as death. The Mwesi , the oldest brother of the deceased, comes to direct the funeral.

In several African cultures there is no fine line between life and death. Life does not end with death, but it continues outside the body. The dead are said to be closer to God or a supreme being than the living.

Funeral rites are about mourning the dead and are also a celebration of life. Since death is another stage of life, the rites also request that the departed leave the living in peace and not stir up trouble. Burial practices vary from community to community, however some people will join together to dance following the funeral. This is said to give the departed ‘light feet’ for the the rest of their journey.

It is a grave concern that if someone is not given a proper burial they will only wander the afterlife disturbing the living. If the death rites are read at the funeral is assurance the dead will leave the living alone. There are mixed feelings about the dead in African communities. For some people it is nothing but love and respect for the deceased, moreover for others it may be dread and woe. These feelings arise because there is a belief that the dead have more power than the living.

Yet, one may wander the afterlife as a ghost if they were a wizard, a murderer, a thief, or broke the law in some other way. Also if the deceased committed suicide or died an ‘unnatural death’ they too would become a ghost. Depending on what they did, they may be subjected to torture or beating by the ancestors. Ancestors are those who have died and are living in the afterlife. This is a similar concept to that of purgatory in Catholicism. To assist ancestors in their journey they are buried with their belongings to take with them.

Faith in Africa has been changing, the funeral is a way to declare one’s faith whether it be staying with customs, Islam or Christianity.

Read more:

African Religions | The African Concept of Death

African Relgious Facts | Encyclopedia.com

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