Recently, I had the pleasure of attending an African funeral in America.
I found that Africans do funerals a bit different than African Americans.
Mourners came through the door well before and well pass midnight. Times when I’m sure many of them are typically asleep or at work. Time seemed insignificant to African mourners – as the parking lot was overflowing.
Once inside, people dressed in both full and part African attire walked circular around the room shaking hands with everyone. It was both ritualistic and formal. “It’s a tradition,” I heard someone behind me say, as if explaining to an American like me.
Funeral colors were most visible in the clothing of the women; all of them draped in regal red and rich black, some of them serving while at the same time looking beautiful. An interesting balancing act the ladies didn’t seem to mind performing. They offered me goat meat, water, and small pieces of candy. I accepted sweetly.
While the men were literally swathed in fabric, primarily black in color, fabric over one shoulder, the other shoulder exposed with biceps blaring. They sat sporadically about the room like kings. Funny how men can make something as simple as sitting look important.
After the preacher offered his words, we all sat without speaking, African music hovering in the background. I asked, “Why are we just sitting here?” My Ghanaian spoke softly to me, “It’s as though we’re all mourning with the family.”
And no one seemed to dare depart the funeral without a financial offering to the family. It seemed almost like an embarrassment not to do so. A young woman in a red head-wrap who was standing at the front door assisted mourners in writing their name in a guest book and placing their check in a rainbow-colored, slit-top box.
In the African-American community in America, the family bares full responsibility when a family member passes away. Some people give, but it’s not a requirement. In African culture, the community assists with funeral responsibilities, including financial ones. Among Ghanaian tribes, everyone comes together and donates to the family of the deceased. Even in the case of Africans living in the diaspora, these family members often use the funds to travel back to Africa for the burial of their beloved, or to assist with the family’s needs.
African funerals are historically a community event.
And I felt blessed to be a part of it.