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 Jamaican funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Irish funeral traditions and Greek funeral traditions, among others.
Jamaican Funeral Tradition History
Rather than a traditional wake with mourning, the Jamaican culture celebrates the deceased through Nine-Night, also known as Dead Yard or Set-up. It’s a celebration on the ninth night after the deceased has passed away with food, white rum, dancing, music, and sharing stories.
The tradition has African and European Christian influences. It’s said to take place on the ninth night because African slaves believed it took nine nights for the spirit, or duppy, to arrive back home in Africa and find peace.
On the ninth night preceding the funeral, family and friends gather at the deceased’s home for a celebration that starts around 8 p.m and lasts all night long. Like Chinese funeral traditions, furniture is rearranged. The mattress is flipped over so the duppy doesn’t recognize the room and want to stay rather than go to the afterlife.
Everyone will say hymns, also known as sankeys, dance, and share stories and memories with the deceased. The first dance is Dinki-Mini, celebrating the creation of life and inviting deceased ancestors’ duppies to join.
A table with food and drinks for the duppy is set up. Goat or pork is usually the meat served. It’s believed the duppy will join the celebration to eat, drink, and listen to stories shared, so no one can eat from this table until after midnight, the witching hour, when the duppy has left for the afterlife.
The funeral service is held on the 10th day. The casket, if chosen to be buried rather the cremated, may have items of the deceased placed inside it. Cremation wasn’t always accepted in the Jamaican culture, but some families choose it today. White rum may also be poured on the ground or grave to honor the memory of the deceased.
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