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 Swazi funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Mauritanian funeral traditions and Hispanic funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Religious and Death Beliefs
Christianity is the most common religion in Swaziland with 88.1% of the population. The next most common religion is Islam at 10.1%.
As for death beliefs, Swazi people believe in the existence of the deceased’s spirits. They believe that the deceased’s spirit may show itself through sickness or omens, such as appearing as a snake. The spirits of ancestors also can punish the living for their bad behavior, and the head of the family communicates with ancestors and gives them offerings on special days such as birthdays, marriages, and deaths.
Swazi people believe that their ancestors pick which living family members will be traditional healers. After their training, there’s a graduation ceremony for all the healers to celebrate, eat, and dance. Then, community members can talk to the healer when someone becomes sick or dies. The healers can find out why a sickness or death occurred and try to help cure a sickness.
Swazi Funeral Customs
For a Swazi funeral, the deceased’ social status plays a role in how elaborate the funeral rituals are. The rituals also depend on the deceased’s relationship with the mourners. If the deceased was the head of the household, they traditionally buried him by the entrance of the cattle area.
When the head of a household dies, his widow shaves her head and has a long mourning period. His children, siblings, and other relatives also mourn for a long time. Additionally, a widow might be expected to continue her husband’s lineage by marrying his brother, and widows have a longer mourning period than widowers.