Frazer Blog

Cultural Spotlight: South African Funeral Traditions

by | Jan 27, 2017 | Cultural Spotlight, For Families

South Africa

Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.

But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.

This article looks at South African funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Jamaican funeral traditions and Chinese funeral traditions, among others.

Note, these traditions may vary depending on the person and their beliefs.

The Wake

The night preceding a South African funeral service, a vigil is held usually in the home of the deceased until the morning. Similar to Irish funeral traditions, pictures, mirrors, and other reflective surfaces are turned over or covered. The deceased’s bed also is removed from their room.

Family, friends, and community members can attend and pay their respects to the deceased. It is a time to comfort the family of the loss of their loved one. A ritual killing of an animal for the ancestors is sometimes done to prevent any more misfortunes from occurring to the family.

The Funeral

A South African funeral service is a place of celebrating and mourning the deceased. In certain communities, sometimes children and unmarried people aren’t allowed to attend the funeral. The immediate family members of the deceased aren’t supposed to talk during the funeral.

For the burial, the deceased may be wrapped in a slaughtered animal skin, or buried with personal items, such as food, clothes, kitchen utensils, or blankets. Some people may choose cremation, but it’s not accepted in certain religions, like Judaism.

After the funeral service is over, everyone is welcomed back to the deceased’s home for a meal and continued celebration of the deceased’s life.

Mourning Period

The formal mourning period can last at least a week after the funeral service. During this time, mourners may not socialize or leave their house, must refrain from loud talking or laughing, wear black, and shave their hair to symbolize death and new life. Widows remain in mourning for at least a year.

Creating a memorial tradition to honor the deceased, such as visiting the gravesite, can help mourners heal. A ritual cleansing also may be done for any people or objects that had contact with the deceased.


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