Front yard, witch craft and broken dishes, Cemeteries Africa, 2011
After “the living” cemetery of Cairo I was anxious to see if African cemeteries would provide me with things to learn und interesting stories about the people and their cultures. They did. I managed to visit a cemetery in almost each country, but a few I had to skip, e.g. Kongo was too tough. Following 5 countries and their tradition as well as what I leaned or think about them. Some conclusions may be wrong but most is proven or justified.
Along the streets every once in a while you will find “cages” which serve as graves. Mostly these are victums of accidents or people of public interest. Along the streets the access to their graves is much easier.
Within the tribal traditions (and I saw some of the villages which still function properly) the death a first prepared in one of the huts on the family ground. Then they are placed publicly at the “plaza” before being burned or buried.
Visiting cemeteries in Kenya got me scared a bit. The separation between Muslim and Catholic grounds is obvious but placing them quiet far outside of towns and villages surprised me. In neighbouring Uganda it’s exactly the opposite (see below). May it be hygienic reasons or an space issue in any case the death are gone and not a great part of social life. Also stones are not used most of the time, only simple wooden crosses.
When Goody explained me why people put lots of wood on top of the graves I was confused. Witches are still around and plunder the graves for their rituals at night. The open grave and some bones as confirmation I did not need but it made me want to leave.
You will not find cemeteries in all of Uganda unless in big cities. The tradition here is to keep the death as close to the family as possible. Therefore they are usually buried in the front or back yard, depending on money very simple or fancy. On the pictures you see the house of our guide with his wife and child as well as the graves of his parents and brother within a reach of 15m from the house. Sometimes you do find a public grave somewhere. Those are so called “heroes”, achieving this status for doing good things to the community (e.g. building a school) but also for killing one or more member of another tribe, the enemy…………
Now this is a different story. The tremendous poverty and the aids epidemic combined with the relatively recent genocide (1994) has made people so used to death that they just “put them away”. Otherwise they also could not handle the numbers. There are cemeteries but its rather a place where to put the bodies. If you do find cages and a stone it has been a rather rich person or someone who has been famous or of public interest.
Here the tradition of dealing with the death really fits to the people. They are nice, they care and they always deal positively with reality despite all the suffering. My guide drove me to a nice cemetery a bit outside of town but mentioned right away that this is the rich people’s cemetery. With the nice trees around it was chosen by the church and for their people. Soon the rich wanted such a nice place to rest in peace as well and offered money. Supposedly a large part of the money paid goes to the benefits of the poor. Therefore they agreed to the procedure while they are still buried further away, in a not so nice but cheaper or free place. Here even death is not for free and money continuous to separate rich and poor.
A common and very nice tradition is to breake and put on the grave everything the dead used in the week before dying, dishes, glases, clothe and so on. This way all the illnesses and bad things leave the house together with the dead.