China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

An ox is slaugh­tered, the de­ceased is wrapped in a lion skin and a fam­ily elder keeps talk­ing to the body’s spirit. The state fu­neral for South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nel­son Man­dela on Sun­day in­cluded th­ese rit­u­als and oth­ers from the tra­di­tion of the Xhosa peo­ple, to whom Man­dela’s Thembu clan be­longs.

Man­dela’s cof­fin was wrapped in the South African flag, stand­ing atop an­i­mal skins at the be­gin­ning of the fu­neral in his childhood vil­lage of Qunu. The cer­e­mony was poised to be an eclec­tic mix of tra­di­tional rit­u­als, Chris­tian el­e­ments and those of a state fu­neral.

Here’s a brief look at the Xhosa peo­ple and the main el­e­ments of their burial tra­di­tions:

The ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s 7 mil­lion Xhosa peo­ple live in the East­ern Cape prov­ince, in the south­east of the na­tion. Their lan­guage, Xhosa, is fa­mous for its three click­ing sounds. The Xhosa rec­og­nize the pres­ence of an­ces­tral spir­its and call upon them for guid­ance. The cer­e­mo­nial slaugh­ter­ing of an­i­mals is one of the ways the an­ces­tors are called upon for help.

Fol­low­ing a tra­di­tion called Xhosa cul­ture re­quires a fam­ily elder to stay with Man­dela’s body and ex­plain to his spirit what is hap­pen­ing. “When the body lies there, the spirit is still alive,’’ said Rev. Wes­ley Mabuza, chair­man of South Africa’s Com­mis­sion for the Pro­mo­tion and Pro­tec­tion of the right of Cul­tural, Re­li­gious and Lin­guis­tic Com­mu­ni­ties.

“The body must be in­formed of what­ever is hap­pen­ing be­fore the fu­neral,” said Noku­zola Mn­dende, di­rec­tor of the Ica­m­agu In­sti­tute for tra­di­tional re­li­gions.

The de­ceased must be wrapped in a spe­cial garment. For peo­ple of a high rank like Man­dela, who is the son of a tra­di­tional clan chief, the body or the cas­ket is usu­ally wrapped in the skin of a leop­ard or a lion, ac­cord­ing to Mn­dende. Man­dela’s body was wrapped in a lion skin. “It’s a rit­ual show­ing deep re­spect for the de­ceased,” she said.

Xhosa tra­di­tion re­quires the slaugh­ter­ing of an an­i­mal early on the day of the burial. Af­ter the rit­ual throat slit­ting, the an­i­mal will be eaten by the mourn­ers, usu­ally out­side the fam­ily house. For peo­ple of a high rank like Man­dela, an ox will be killed, Mn­dende said.

“That ox is slaugh­tered, cooked and eaten all in one day,’’ she said.

A year af­ter the burial, another ox will be slaugh­tered and eaten by the fam­ily to mark the end of the mourn­ing pe­riod, in a tra­di­tion called “There must be a time when the mourn­ing is bro­ken,” Mn­dende said.

About another year later a joy­ous cer­e­mony is cel­e­brated to bring back the de­ceased into the fam­ily so that the per­son will hence­forth be look­ing over the fam­ily and its chil­dren as a well-mean­ing an­ces­tor, in a rit­ual called Mn­dende said.

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