Frazer Blog

Cultural Spotlight: Zambian Funeral Traditions

by | Jan 26, 2018 | Cultural Spotlight, For Families


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 Zambian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about French funeral traditions and Czech funeral traditions, among others.

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

All-Night Wake

In rural areas, there’s an all-night wake campfire outside of the deceased’s home. They move all the furniture outside for family and friends to sit on around the campfire. Then, they put the body inside the house for mourners to view and say their respects.

When someone dies in Zambia, mourners have distinct loud and rhythmic mourning cries. They also bring food and monetary gifts for the grieving family. Sometimes, there’s also an animal sacrifice to honor the deceased.

Zambian Funeral Service

With 75.3% of Zambia’s population identifying as Protestant and 20.2% as Catholic, a Zambian funeral typically follows Christian traditions. There’s also a combination of traditional and modern-day traditions. A Zambian funeral is usually a large event that may last several days. This also gives time for family members who live far away to travel there.

The funeral is usually on the third day after the death, but some rural areas have it on the same day. Wearing black clothing is optional; women wear modest, older clothing and don’t wear any makeup, while men wear casual, older clothing.

The Burial

Some families can’t afford an expensive casket, so they use a wooden casket or a ladder made of tree fibers. For those who live in the city, there’s a funeral procession to the funeral home with funeral songs and mourning. Usually, the men in the family dig the burial plot and then sit separately from the women during the burial.

When it’s time for the burial, two men climb into the grave and the pallbearers hand them the body. Mourners throw dirt on top of the casket and say prayers and a few words about the deceased. Sometimes, they pour cement over the casket to stop graverobbers from stealing it.

After the burial, they may sweep out the deceased’s home, shave their heads, and drink traditional herbs to help them heal their broken hearts. But before they enter the house, they wash their feet with clean water.


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