How Is Death Viewed In African Culture

African Cultural Concept of Death and the Idea of Advance Care Directives

Indian Journal of Palliative Care, Vol. 22, No. 4, Oct.-Dec. 2016, pp. 369–372. Several other papers in PMC have mentioned this article in their own work.


An advance care directive is a person’s oral or written instructions about his or her future medical care, in the event that he or she is unable to communicate for whatever reason. It might take the shape of a written document or an oral presentation. Most Africans do not promote the contemplation of death or any conversation of their own or loved ones’ deaths, and this is especially true in their home countries. According to the African belief system, life does not come to a stop with death, but rather continues in an other dimension.

Advance care directives are viewed as being excessively individualistic for communitarian communities such as those found in Africa, according to some.

Advance care directives are a tool that can be used to help people plan for the future.

Key words: Advance care directive, African, Cultural, and Family.


An advance care directive is a person’s spoken or written instructions concerning his or her future medical treatment, in the event that he or she is unable to speak for whatever reason. It might take the shape of a written document or an oral presentation. It may also contain the names of individuals who can make decisions on a person’s behalf about what sort of treatment would be desired in instances when the person concerned may be unable to make such decisions for himself or herself (e.g., while the person is unconscious).

Dancy and Davis claim that death is a “universal, natural, persistent, inescapable, unavoidable, and indisputable aspect of life,” and that it is a “natural, unavoidable, and undeniable fact of life.” When someone passes away, there is almost always an impact on the deceased’s family and friends; the extent of the damage varies depending on whether the death was expected or unexpected.

  1. According to the renowned philosopher Epicurus, however, the human soul perishes together with the body upon death, putting an end to all feeling and conscious life.
  2. There are significant differences between the processes of unexpected (sudden) death and anticipated death (dying).
  3. In both circumstances, the loved ones who have been left behind must go through the mourning process, however the process is carried out in a different way.
  4. When someone is dying, there is an expectation that death will eventually occur, which allows loved ones to prepare both emotionally and cognitively for the eventuality of death when it comes.

While such emotional and cognitive preparation as seen in the case of a dying person is absent in the case of an unexpected (sudden) death, coping by loved ones is difficult, and the deceased person may not have the time to complete unfinished business such as preparing an estate plan, if such planning had not been done previously.

Religion, it is claimed, can assist in providing meaning and solutions to the difficulties of ambiguity, helplessness, and shortage that are created as a result of the death.

So, why should a 5-year-old die instead of a 50-year-old, for example, is beyond me.

In light of the fact that culture is defined as “a shared worldview, values, norms, and behavior patterns shared by a group of individuals,” this becomes particularly important when one considers the fact that “culture profoundly impacts behavior and the family; it shapes how persons make meaning of illness, suffering, and death.” This review focuses on the social-cultural concepts, beliefs, and practices surrounding death that are of significant relevance to Africa in general, as well as how failure of an attending health professional to acknowledge and respect these concepts, beliefs, and practices can result in misunderstanding and conflict with the family members of a dying patient.

The review is organized as follows: It would also look at how these variables are likely to influence the use of advance care directives in this area of the globe, and it would provide recommendations on how to overcome or reduce the impact of these factors on the use of advance care directives in this region.


It is also known as ancestor worship, according to Eyetsemitan, and it is founded on the notion that life is cyclical, rather than linear, as stated by Eyetsemitan. People who are deceased, according to this system of belief, are still living in a distant planet and can reincarnate (and return to this world) through successive births. Death is seen as a rite of passage for people who die at a reasonable (old) age, according to some. When death happens in Africa, the deceased ancestors are consulted to determine the cause of death, with spiritual components (witchcraft, insulting one’s ancestors, or Gods) being linked to the cause of death rather than medical or physical grounds.

If an individual dies, he or she continues to exist in the spirit realm, where they are given an identically-shaped new body that has the ability to move around like their ancestors did on earth.

Therefore, an African individual would prefer a slow and lingering death that occurs as a result of natural causes, because they would not only be able to resolve many issues, such as making peace with family members and saying goodbye to relatives, but they would also be accepted into the spirit world.

A proper burial is performed after death in accordance with the concept that the objective of life is to become an ancestor after death.

Dancy and Davis claim that death signifies the physical separation of the person from other individuals, which lends validity to the African idea of death.


Because there are so many different religious and cultural traditions in Africa, the death rites and mourning customs of Africans are diverse as well. A majority of Africans believe that their communities are communalistic and do not recognize advance care directives, which, in their opinion, encourages “atomistic individuality.” Nuclear individualism refers to the belief that an isolated person is the sole basic reality, as well as that an individual is the natural atom in a composite social structure created artificially.

  • In this way, people are bound by a sense of duty to a broader group of other persons.
  • Instead, decision-making throughout the end-of-life period is delegated to members of the person’s family, a practice that fosters unhealthy dispute as the events of the situation develop.
  • It is considered forbidden to contemplate about or talk about one’s own death.
  • Death is likewise regarded as an adversary of life, and Africans believe that life should be protected by every means necessary, even if the situation appears hopeless.
  • In contrast to how African-Americans perceive death and dying, the depiction depicted above is inaccurate.
  • The first of these principles is the notion of dual unity.
  • Rather than being seen as opposites, such as day and night, dead and alive, are seen as having reciprocal and unifying purposes rather than being seen as opposites.

The second premise says that the two elements of matter and spirit are inextricably linked.

The third element says that comprehending African culture requires a knowledge of the family as well.

As a result, deceased relatives continue to exist in the family circle as the living dead.

This last principle discusses how a person feels linked to his or her family and how he or she feels a feeling of obligation toward his or her community.

It is only possible for the individual to declare, “I am because we are; and because we are, therefore I am,” in accordance with Mbiti.

This may involve avoiding a longer hospital stay, enabling them to die in their own beds and in the arms of their children at home, directing how the burial ritual should be conducted, and specifying where they should be laid to rest.

Furthermore, the practice of paternalistic medicine, as well as the consequences of this practice on patients after they have come into contact with physicians, causes such persons to become even more determined not to address personal concerns with their doctors.

An important point to consider in medical practice is whether it is feasible for the family physician, who typically treats patients in the context of the family, to adapt advance care directives in practice because they are considered too individualistic, given that they are considered too individualistic.

Advance care directives have been criticized as being excessively individualistic for communitarian communities, such as those found in Africa, according to some.

In order to encourage the creation and use of advance care directives, it is necessary for both physicians and other health-care workers to be culturally sensitive in their interactions with patients.

The following recommendations are also made: discussing the topic whenever the opportunity arises because this will facilitate a structured discussion; raising awareness among people about the use of advance care directives by providing relevant information; completing a statement and providing copies to the individual, the proxy, and any other relevant parties; periodically reviewing the statement; and most importantly, implementing the plan when the time is right.

The effectiveness of all of these suggestions, however, will be limited unless and until people recognize the critical role that advance care directives play in settling the disagreement that might arise between a physician and the family members of a dying patient.


Taking into consideration all of the difficulties raised above, it would be disrespectful to other family members if one of them decided to establish an advance care directive without consulting with the other members of the family. In order to effectively manage end-of-life issues within the context of the patient’s family and culture, it is critical for the family physician and other physicians to be culturally sensitive. This includes encouraging patients to use an advance care directive while also ensuring that other members of the patient’s family are aware of the patient’s wishes.

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Why would some Africans not consider establishing advance care directives to take care of concerns that may arise during their end-of-life period if they make wills to address matters such as inheritance after their deaths?

Financial support and sponsorship

There are no conflicts of interest to be concerned about.


Morgan A. Advance care directives are a type of advance directive. The book is edited by Frey RG and Wells CH. A Companion to Applied Ethic (A Companion to Applied Ethic). The Blackwell Companions to Philosophy are a collection of books published by Blackwell. In: Blackwell Publishing Limited (London, United Kingdom); 2005, pp. 261–70. 2.Dancy, J., and Davis, W. The Most Important Topics in End-of-Life Care The Last Miles of the Way Home 2004 National Conference to Improve End-of-Life Care for African Americans was the inspiration for this project.

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  2. Ethics, a Systematic and Historical Study (Omoregbe, JI), 3rd edition.
  3. Epicurian ethics is discussed on pages 174–7.
  4. New York, USA: Thomson Gale; 2004.
  5. 546–58.
  6. New York, USA: Thomson Gale; 2004.
  7. L, Makobe-Rabithata M., Makobe-Rabithata L., Makobe-Rabithata M.

Edited by Jackson LT, Meiring DM, van de Vijver FJ, Idemudia E, Gabrenya WK Jr, and Van de Vijver FJ.

Death and the afterlife in African culture is available from the following source: K.

and Gyekye.

Washington, DC: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy; 1992.

Washington, DC: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy; 1992.

Prajna Vihara Journal of Philosophy, volume 9, pages 23–49.

Sanchez-Gonzalez Advance directives in countries other than the United States: Are they always the best solution?

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Sullivan 14.

In: Parry JK, Ryan AS (eds.

Death, dying, and religion are examined from a cross-cultural perspective.


Mbiti was published by Heinemann in Oxford and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Emanuel, M.

Pearlman, and P.A.

Creating a method for advance care planning in practice: How to structure the talks JAGS (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society) 43:440–6 (1996).

Cultural diversity at the end of life: Issues and recommendations for family doctors (Searight HR, Gafford J). 2005; 71:515–22. American Family Physician 71:515–22.

Death Rituals in Africa

Death and burial rites in Africa are profoundly ingrained in the continent’s cultural beliefs, customs, and indigenous religions, as well as in the continent’s indigenous cultures. They are governed by Africans’ conceptions of life after death, as well as the authority and function of the departed ancestor, among other things. Rituals developed as a result of the introduction of Christianity, Islam, and modern developments, but traditional themes continue to be practiced throughout Africa and among people of African heritage throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

The Right Burial

The “proper” burial assures that the ancestor does not linger to haunt and wield influence over the living, but rather lies in peace and protects the family as a result of the procedure. This notion stems from a widely held African belief that life and death are two different states of being that live side by side on a continuum of existence, with death considered to be just another state of being. When a person dies, his or her entire being continues to exist but now resides in the spirit realm, where he or she can be reborn as a number of other persons.

In addition, witches, sorcerers, and those who are undeserving of a “decent” burial may be refused one.

Variations in African Tribal Rituals

Even within a single nation in the huge continent of Africa, with its numerous countries and various indigenous faiths, the diverse ethnic groups or tribes have their own varieties of death rites, which can be found throughout the continent. However, there are certain parallels in the fundamental themes because of shared traditional beliefs about the deceased and veneration for ancestors, which are common to both cultures. An summary of the Xhosa tribe’s traditions at President Nelson Mandela’s burial in South Africa in 2013 highlights several fundamental practices of the people.

Home Rituals Before Burial

African funeral rites begin as soon as a person dies, with the preparation of the home and the reception of visitors who arrive to pay their respects to the deceased. Several elements of household rituals, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dyingreference, include:

  • To prevent the deceased from seeing themselves, all images should be turned to face the wall and all mirrors, windows, and reflective surfaces should be covered. There are ashes on the glass of the windows in South Africa. Taking the bed out of the deceased person’s chamber
  • And Organizing a vigil in the home so the entire community may come to pay their respects and express their condolences to the grieving family

When neighborhood mourners come to the home in the days leading up to the burial, there may be a lot of wailing, especially in the early morning hours. As recounted in a Zambian encounter, this may be heard from a long distance and is disturbing. In addition, there is a collecting of food and other materials, cooking, eating, and the assigning of responsibilities in order to prepare for the burial service.

Removing the Body From the House for Burial

When neighborhood mourners arrive to the house in the days leading up to the burial, there may be a lot of sobbing, especially if it is noisy.

As stated in a Zambian encounter, this can be heard from a long way away. Food and other supplies are also gathered, meals are prepared, and duties are assigned in preparation for the burial service.

  • Hole in the wall: Instead of using a door, take the deceased out of the house through a hole in the wall and seal the hole so that he cannot get back in. This also represents the fact that he has become a member of the ancestral community. Take the dead out of the house with his feet first, so that he is facing away from the location of the house. When you get to the cemetery, use a zigzag path to avoid confusing the deceased who could try to find his way back home. Impediments: Place obstacles on the road, such as thorns, twigs, or other hurdles, to make it more difficult for him to find his way back home.

Funeral Rituals in Africa

Funeral rites are performed fast among the Igbo tribe, according to Igbo Funeral Rites Today, so that the deceased might be reunited with their ancestors. Other tribes may choose to postpone the burial until relatives arrive from a long distance away. In today’s world, some individuals opt to place their loved ones in a morgue for several weeks or months while they await the arrival of family members, collect money, or prepare a lavish funeral. On the day of the funeral, a parade to the burial site is frequently held, sometimes starting before daybreak and accompanied by singing and dance.

The Burial

Procession of caskets For burial, the deceased may be clothed in his own garments and covered with the skin of an animal that has been slain. In certain cultures, the body is covered in a shroud made of linen. Personal belongings are frequently interred with the deceased in order to assist him on his journey. The Yoruba tribe, for example, includes food, clothing, poultry, and other animals, while other tribes provide spears, shields, and pots and pans, ensuring that the departed has all he or she requires in the hereafter.

It is possible that an ox or a cow will be sacrificed in a rite so that it might accompany the deceased to the land of his ancestors (“the home carrying”) and function as a guardian for the living will take place.

A Community Support

According to a PhD thesis titled Mourning Rituals and Practices in Contemporary South African Townships, it is customary for a death in Africa to bring the whole family, some of whom travel long distances, as well as the entire community together (page 24). Frequently, a large number of community people attend the funeral to show their support for the family members. In most cases, the close family members stay silent throughout the funeral procedures, and they typically stand on one side of the graveyard, with the rest of the community on the other side.

After-Funeral Rituals and Mourning Customs

The author of the book Funerals in Africa: Explorations of a Social Phenomenon writes that in Africa, funeral ceremonies do not stop with the burial. In certain cultures, after-funeral ceremonies and mourning traditions can last for an extended period of time. Specifically, this is true in nations such as Kenya and Angola, which are located in sub-Saharan Africa. These get-togethers may be extravagant, entertaining, and expensive.

After-Funeral Rituals

Following the funeral, everyone returns to their own homes to dine. On page 26, the author describes how individuals are supposed to wash off the graveyard dust and may even go through a ritual cleaning at the cemetery entrance as part of the mourning rituals and practices in contemporary South African townships.

Some mourners immerse portions of the aloe plant in water, believing that doing so will fend off malevolent spirits. Christians may also choose to shower holy water on mourners in order to cleanse them.

Mourning Customs

According to the author, mourning rituals may continue for at least a week following the burial. Mourning Rituals and Practices in South African Townships in the Contemporary Period Among the customary behaviors observed during the formal mourning period are:

  • Not leaving the house or engaging in social activities
  • Constant abstinence from sexual activity Not making a lot of noise or laughing too much
  • Mourners are expected to dress in all black, including armbands and pieces of black fabric pinned to their clothing. Hair shaving, especially facial hair shaving, is practiced by both men and women in the family to represent death and rebirth.

Widows should anticipate to be in mourning for six to twelve months, and children who have lost a parent should expect to be in mourning for three months. After the traditional mourning period has over, the family is no longer required to wear black. A few days or weeks following the funeral, the family may choose to organize a ceremony or build a shrine in order to commemorate and honour their deceased loved ones. A ceremony to celebrate the deceased’s status as an ancestor may be held at a later date by the family to mark the occasion.

Ritual Cleansing

Anyone or everything who has come into contact with the deceased is considered unclean or tainted by African culture and beliefs. It is recommended that cleaning rites begin before burial and continue for around seven days or longer following the funeral, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. The following are examples of ritual cleansing:

  • Death is ritually cleansed and dressed before burial in certain cultures. In the Ashanti tribe of Ghana for example, the eldest woman in the family washes the body three times, dries it, and outfits it
  • In other cultures it is done by the closest female relative. Items that came into contact with the dead, such as bedding and clothing, are cleaned
  • Things that were used by the deceased, such as chairs and utensils, are stored until the local customary time of mourning is completed. The clothes of the deceased is wrapped and preserved until the period of mourning is through, after which the things are handed to family members or destroyed. House and family members are cleansed after a period of time, according to local custom, using herbs and other natural remedies to eliminate misfortune and “darkness” from their lives.
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During the ritual cleaning of the home and family, an animal may be slaughtered, and another animal may be killed roughly a month later to put the soul of the deceased to rest.

Evolution of the Rituals

African death rites developed as a result of the expansion of Islam and Christianity over the continent, which questioned and transformed the region’s ancient religious beliefs and practices. In certain places, however, such as regions of Kenya and the Cameroons, “unimportant individuals” and the children were not given burial ceremonies, but were instead abandoned to be eaten by hyenas until as recently as the early twentieth century. Under colonial teachings, only traces of ancient rites may be found in certain places, while in Africa, traditional beliefs in the significance of death, the afterlife, and the position of respect reserved for ancestors continue to be practiced.

The slaves were permitted to follow their death traditions, and parts of mostly West African death rites may be seen throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, with Jamaican death rituals serving as an excellent example.

Extravagant Rituals

According to the book Funerals in Africa: Explorations of a Social Phenomenon, shifting social and political influences are also contributing to the increasing extravagance of death rituals that are now common in some parts of contemporary Africa, as documented in the book Funerals in Africa: Explorations of a Social Phenomenon. As early as the 17th and 18th centuries, examples of this were found in places such as the western Gold and Slave Coasts, Angola, Kinshasa, and the Congo (Brazzaville) for the burial of “important” individuals, and in other places around the world.

The grandeur can be apparent in everything from the pre-burial preparations and elaborate coffins to the mourning and memorial activities, which can extend for several years.

Modern Europe and other Western countries, on the other hand, have more private and quieter funeral rites, which contrast with this.

Centuries of Tradition

Death rituals in Africa, like death rituals in many other countries, are deeply rooted in the traditions, cultural beliefs, and religions that have been practiced on the continent for generations. Despite the fact that religious and modern influences have altered traditional funeral traditions, many of the features of the past may still be found in Africa and in the death rites of people of African heritage in the new world, particularly in the United States. LoveToKnow Media was founded in the year 2022.

Africa: Death, Mourning, and Ancestors

According to a local proverb from the central African nation of RWANDA, “People who die are not buried in fields; they are buried in the heart.” Death, of course, is more than just the physical aspect of a person’s existence coming to an end. Families and communities are also affected emotionally and socially as a result of this. Africans commemorate these transformations with ceremonies that rely on ancient beliefs and customs, as well as Muslim and Christian activities, among other sources.

When it comes to Muslim burial traditions and beliefs regarding the afterlife in North Africaand other parts of Africa, Islamic literature and beliefs are followed.

For most people living in that region, death is considered to be the process through which one becomes an ancestor, and burial customs are associated with the essential role that ancestors play in the lives of those who have survived them.


All societies have funeral practices as a means of distinguishing the deceased from those who are still alive. Moreover, they may be used to meet religious criteria or expectations. Furthermore, funerals and obituaries are often used for social purposes, providing families and communities with a chance to exhibit their social standing and relationships in front of the public.

Funerary Practices in Sub-Saharan Africa

Burial practices in Sub-Saharan Africa reflect the diversity in cultures and histories of the numerous communities that make up the region. It is possible that European colonial influence and modernity have had an impact on the development of these traditions. The Lugbara people of Uganda’s northern region reside in highly crowded areas where death occurs on a regular basis and is experienced (or at the very least heard about) by a large number of people Death is a common concept to the Lugbara, yet they place a high value on it.

  • Funerals attract large crowds of people, including those who are not related to the deceased.
  • They buried their dead in the open, with little regard for the deceased.
  • Adapting to these shifts in their environment, the Mbeere constructed elaborate burial rites that served as markers of property ownership as well as tributes to Mbeere leaders and to the power of their followers.
  • For example, the death of a wealthy man inGHANA triggered a competition between two communities to whom the dead was related by marriage, political and economic links, as well as blood and marriage relationships.
  • Following his burial and adoption as a member of the Presbyterian faith, the matter of the deceased’s hometown and main kinship was resolved in favor of the town having a Presbyterian connection.
  • Some Africans prefer burial rites that are led by a group of church members.
  • If someone has the ability to preserve the body of the deceased, they should do so for many days to enable time for family and friends to assemble for the funeral.

The funeral is also influenced by the deceased’s social standing and the nature of his or her death.

Large and extravagant funerals, on the other hand, are held to commemorate long life, community service, and financial success.

Young children and pregnant women, who are considered to be particularly vulnerable to death’s tainting, are frequently barred from attending funerals.

These death notifications are placed in newspapers, on radio, and on television by wealthy individuals in order to bring attention to upcoming funeral services.

Obituaries, as well as memorial notes that family post in the media months or years after a death, provide survivors with an opportunity to reflect on the deceased’s professional and personal achievements, allowing them to celebrate their own place in society.

Some traditional African conceptions regarding the soul’s life after death are centered on trips or judgements, while others are more general.

Occasionally, the supreme deity renders a last judgment on the character of the person who has died. The deceased, in their function as ancestors, continue to be an important component of living societies, even though the spirit world and afterlife are kept concealed from view by the living.

Islamic Traditions

Muslims never cremate or burn the bodies of their loved ones. They bury them in the ground. According to tradition, the burial should take place as quickly as possible following the death. Someone who dies during the day is buried as soon as feasible before sunset; a person who dies at night is buried as soon as possible in the morning. When the body is cleansed, it is wrapped in a white cloth and laid in a grave with its face towards Mecca, the Islamic holy city in Saudi Arabia. The practices of Muslim funerals and mourning differ from one another.

The family of the dead often host a feast for those who attended the funeral a few days or weeks after the funeral has taken place in their community.

If a dying person has led a wicked or a good life, according to these scriptures, the Angel of Death sits at their head and steers the soul toward either God’s fury or kindness, according on how they have spent their lives.

A flowery paradise awaits the souls of those who have been considered to be virtuous, as well as the souls of all Muslims who die in jihad, or holy war.


African beliefs and practices towards the dead were defined as ancestor worship by explorers and researchers during the nineteenth century. Another research found that while the relationship between living people and their ancestors varies among African cultures, it is usually tense and difficult to understand. Some scholars interpret such connections as ones of respect rather than devotion, rather than as ones of adoration. According to this viewpoint, families and communities are moulded by the experiences of those who have gone before them.

In turn, the living are evaluated based on how successfully and faithfully they carry out their obligations to their forefathers and foremothers.

Ancestors in Everyday Life

According to the Lugbara people of central Africa, their elaborate and extremely public funerals are an integral component of a change that begins with death: the transformation of the departed into a spirit whose name will be remembered by his or her ancestors and successors. Rituals for the deceased can go for many years and include many people. When notable seniors are laid to rest, the Lugbara plant fig trees at their graves and may arrange tiny stone slabs together to build “homes” in memory of the deceased.

  • After a period of time, the most senior ancestors lose their links to a particular area and are thought to be a part of the creator deity.
  • The living and the dead interact with one another in a variety of settings and ways.
  • The Nzima people of Ghana consider long-term enterprises such as orchards and plantations to be the labour of the dead, which continues through successive generations of their ancestors.
  • African Muslims commemorate their forefathers and foremothers via rites.
  • The dead, in exchange for the prayers of the living, return benefits to the living.
  • There is a rating system for the dead, just as there is for the living.
  • Someone who has not “properly” buried their parents will be viewed as dumb or useless, and they will most likely be forgotten as well.
  • A form of wayward or rebellious spirit, for example, appears as a newborn infant in certain West African myths, only to die and reappear in the spirit realm a number of times.
  • Chinua Achebe is a Nigerian novelist.

After hearing a 16-year-old girl describe her encounters with this ghost, I decided to write about it. He detailed the sorrow and disorientation she had as a result of being treated as if she were a live person who may disappear into the spirit realm at any time.

Ancestors and Politics

Death and ancestry have been used as political instruments at various points and locations throughout African history. One of the most effective methods of removing a group’s standing in society, short of enslaving its members, is to restrict the ability of its members to participate in funeral and mourning ceremonies. African governments and societies have achieved this by enforcing different burial codes for different classes of people, as demonstrated in the following examples. In certain countries, the cost of “good” funerals may be prohibitively expensive, making them out of reach for the poor.

  • Africans have responded to this problem by organizing burial organizations, which have been in existence since the early 1900s, when they first began to settle in urban settings.
  • During the 1800s and 1900s, certain African political groups used the figures of ancestors for support.
  • The 1850s, for example, saw the birth of an XHOSA lady named NONGQAWUSE, who generated a fuss in SOUTH AFRICA at the time.
  • They followed her advice and ended up in a state of extreme poverty.
  • An example of such a struggle occurred in Uganda during the 1970s.
  • Following that, Amin organized a public viewing of the body as well as a massive state funeral.
  • Of course, the deed did not have no significance.
  • (See also Ethnic Groups and Identity, Islam in Africa, Kinship, Religion and Ritual, and Spirit Possession for further information.)
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Bereavement and Mourning (Africa)

The diffusion of Western ideas, attitudes, and practices into African culture began in the later part of the nineteenth century, when colonial power took hold. In particular, the colonial effect on African culture was visible during World War I, when the wartime experiences of African families and soldiers led to profound changes in African concepts, beliefs, and customs relating to disease, death, burial, and remembering. More over 2 million Africans fought in World War I, with around 200,000 African soldiers and carriers losing their lives while serving their country in the war.

In contrast, the type and trajectory of change in the African method of grief were not uniform: some people remained to follow traditional African rituals, whilst others converted completely to Christianity or the Western way of grieving; others blended the two traditions.

Traditional African Beliefs and Practices↑

All Africans thought that life was precious and that everyone had the right to receive decent treatment and care throughout their lives and after their deaths. The great majority of Africans thought that the sick, the injured, the dying, and the dead should be treated with dignity. Individuals and groups within African cultures have historically coped with issues such as illness and death, as well as sorrow and grieving in a variety of ways – to name a few examples. There were certain differences between the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Gikuyu of Kenya in terms of how they mourned, grieved, and remembered those who had died.

  1. The Nandi, for example, would frequently move the very ill and dying out of their homes and leave them in a faraway open field, while the Igbo would bury their dead in a nearby graveyard.
  2. The Igbo kept the sick and dying within their homesteads until they died or recovered, at which point they were buried.
  3. Nonetheless, despite these disparities, there were some overriding elements in African beliefs and behaviors around disease, death, sorrow, and the remembering of the deceased that were universally recognized.
  4. Human beings were supposed to live and have a normal life until they died in old age, and many African families considered that death at a young age was not a natural event.
  5. As a result, Africans devised elaborate strategies, which included traditional ceremonies, to ward off illness, death, and bereavement, even during times of war and conflict.
  6. If an African soldier became ill or was hurt, his family did all in their power to organize care for him, meeting with traditional medicine men and religious authorities and pleading with them to save the life of the injured or ill soldier’s son or daughter.
  7. Almost all African societies had the belief that when someone died, their soul was transferred to another realm where they might continue communicating with the living and delivering favors and misfortune to those still alive.

Additionally, the Abanyole people of Kenya, a sub-tribe of the Abaluhya, thought that ghosts might reward or punish those who were still alive in their world.

In the ancient world, death was a time for everyone in the community to come together in order to lament the loss of a loved one, to remember and commiserate, and to send the deceased’s spirit on its way into the next realm.

Families, relatives, and members of the community would gather to the farmhouse of the deceased in Ghana’s Ashanti ethnic group to grieve.

There was a common expectation within the Ashanti community that every able-bodied adult member would attend funeral rites because it was thought that the deceased would recognize those who were present and those who were not, and they would bestow their blessings and curses appropriately.

“Among the Baganda people of Uganda, the condition of grief or ‘death’ (olumbe) was terminated through a ritual known as ‘destroying death,'” according to the Associated Press (okwaabya olumbe).

Complex masquerade ceremonies were conducted by the Nyau Society among the Chewa of Malawi to mourn deaths and other major social occasions.

Kenyans named their children after their relatives, thinking that doing so was the most effective method to keep their memory alive.

Many African groups had mourning, grief, and remembering rites, which may endure over several weeks, months, or even years in certain instances.

How, therefore, did Africans grieve, bury, and commemorate their fallen troops during and after World War I, and how did these rituals and practices develop during the course of the conflict?

Mourning and Remembrance During and After World War I↑

Conscripted troops from African countries fought mostly with colonial forces, primarily in the British, French and German armies during World War I. Some served as volunteers, but the overwhelming majority served as conscripts. While some troops served as warriors on the battlefield, the vast majority served as carriers in the field (porters). Many were killed in war in Africa and Europe, while many more died as a result of health problems brought on by weariness, exposure to the elements, and disease, among other things.

  1. Approximately 30,000 African troops died while serving in the French army in Europe during World War II.
  2. Nearly 1 million African troops were active in the conflict in one form or another in East Africa alone, with around 10% of those who served dying as a result of their involvement.
  3. During World War I, Africans in Senegal referred to the conflict as “a very, very horrible thing” or “the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” Those in Malawi linked the battle with tengatenga, or military labor, to describe the situation.
  4. Indeed, even years after the war ended, many Africans continued to regard the conflict as a highly destructive event that claimed the lives of a large number of their fellow citizens.
  5. So no one believed them when we informed them their boys were dead; they guessed correctly.
  6. Those who were aware of how their kids died were able to explain it to their families.
  7. And was aware that we were traveling together.
  8. And after a while, people began to inquire as to his whereabouts.

Funeral rites for their fallen soldiers were performed by many families in accordance with traditional African practices; others altered certain aspects of their traditions; and still others completely adopted western and Christian modes of mourning, as well as Christian modes of burial for the dead.

  • Family members of the dead and community elders would lead their respective families in grieving, according to traditional Luo custom.
  • Young and old men would run helter-skelter about the deceased man’s farmhouse, holding spears and shields, as well as bows and arrows, in simulated fights with the evil spirits that had taken over the place.
  • Families that adhered to traditional traditions felt that failing to do so would draw curses from the deceased soldier, which would result in disaster for the entire community.
  • In such circumstances, families were frequently required to conduct burial ceremonies for their deceased troops in line with their cultural traditions.
  • Other African families used ceremonial burials of different sorts of items to signify and honor the deaths of their troops whose remains had not been returned home with them.
  • During the war, in particular, and under colonialism in general, African families and soldiers underwent significant changes in their views, beliefs, and customs relating to disease, death, and burial, as well as in their recollection.
  • Uncertainty exists over the exact number of Africans who converted to Christianity during the early colonial period.
  • To grieve and bury the deceased, many bereaved families among the Zulu Christian converts would instead seek an ordained minister to lead them in their grief and burial the dead, rather than their customary elders.
  • African families also granted consent to colonial military officials to bury their deceased in war cemeteries in both Africa and Europe, which was a violation of international law.
  • Africa’s families began to acknowledge colonial monuments created to commemorate and laud the sacrifices and heroic achievements of African troops, both alive and dead, during World War II in a same vein as European families.

However, although some African families have maintained traditional patterns of grieving while others have accepted Western practices, others have attempted to straddle both traditional and western realms in burial traditions and other aspects of life. Families like these were fairly frequent.


The African families who lost loved ones during World War I used both traditional and Western/colonial rituals to grieve, bury, and remember their fallen warriors throughout the war’s duration. As a result of this article’s discussion of the ways in which Africans have traditionally dealt with illness, injury, and death, as well as the ways in which new modes of mourning have been integrated into African culture, a foundation for further research into the mourning and commemoration of African soldiers during World War I has been laid.

Melvin E.

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