a theological analysis of the catholic burial rite

berry muchemwa

Harare, Zimbabwe 2007

Abbreviations & Acronyms ..................................................................................................... 4 Preface ....................................................................................................................................... 5 Introduction .............................................................................................................................. 6


The History of the Christian Funerals .......................................................................... 8 Introduction ....................................................................................................................... 8 1.1 The Apostolic and Patristic Periods (100-799 A.D) .................................................... 8 1.2 The Medieval Period (800-1499 A.D.) ..................................................................... 12 1.3 The Reformation Period (1500-1699 A.D.) .............................................................. 13 1.4 The Tridentine Period (1700-1962 A.D.) .................................................................. 15 1.5 The Vatican II Period (1965- ) .................................................................................. 16 Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 21


Death and Burial in Shona Culture ............................................................................. 22 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 22 2.1 The Moment of Death ............................................................................................... 22 2.2 Ritual of Burial Preparation ...................................................................................... 24 2.3 Ritual Procession ....................................................................................................... 31 2.4 Ritual of Internment .................................................................................................. 32 2.5 Ritual Purification ..................................................................................................... 36 Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 37


The Church and Inculturation in Zimbabwe ............................................................. 38 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 38 3.1 The Church and Local Cultures ................................................................................ 39 3.2 The Development of an Indigenous Shona Burial Rite............................................. 44 3.3 Shona Order for Burial .............................................................................................. 47 Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 51



An Inculturated Shona Burial Rite ............................................................................. 51 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 51 4.1 Critical Appraisal of the Shona Order for Burial ...................................................... 52 4.2 Fundamental areas in traditional burial ritual............................................................ 57 4.3 A Proposed Shona Order for Burial Rite .................................................................. 62 Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 69

Conclusion ............................................................................................................................... 70 Appendix 1: Glossary of Shona Words & Phrases.............................................................. 72 Appendix 2: Shona Proverds on Death ................................................................................ 74 Sources..................................................................................................................................... 75


Abbreviations & Acronyms


Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Vatican; [1909-]) African Christian Studies (Nairobi, Kenya) African Ecclesial Review (Eldoret, Kenya) Africae Terrarum (Pope Paul VI, Message to the African Bishops and to the people of Africa, 29th October 1967) Bulletin of Ecumenical Theology (Enugu, Nigeria) Cahiers des Religious Africaines (Kinshasa, DRC) Divine Worship, 15th August 1969) Evangelii Praecones (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Letter on Promotion of Catholic Missions, 2nd June 1951) Journal of Constructive Theology (Durban, South Africa) Lumen Gentium (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 21st November 1964) No date (of publication) No place (of publication) Native Affairs Department Annual (Salisbury, Rhodesia; [1923-1980]) Order of Christian Funeral (Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, 2nd November 1989) Ordo Exsequiarium, Rite of Funerals (Sacred Congregation for Sacrosanctum Concilium (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 4th December 1963) Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar Summi Pontificatus (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Letter on the Unity of Human Society, 20th October 1939) Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops‘ Conference. The Zambezi Mission Record (A Jesuit Missionary Publication, London; [1898-1934])



My interest in the subject of this work was initially aroused in the 1990‘s by the intense debate on ‗ancestor-veneration‘ in the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe. I followed the debate with keen interest and wrote my own reflections on the subject in the church magazines. This work was originally published in 2002 with the sub-heading The Christian Celebration of Death and Burial in the Context of Inculturation in Shona Culture. The original edition met with mixed reactions with some people expressing the feeling that, although it was a step in the right direction, it needed to be concretised in the local pastoral realities. My theological studies in the Netherlands exposed me to the rich library of Radboud University and this afforded me the opportunity to up-date my theological outlook. My brief stay in Zimbabwe in 2006/7 gave me the ample time to reflect on my work, remove ambiguities and refine my arguments. The new sub-heading A Pastoral-Theological Analysis of the Catholic Burial Rite reflects the development of my ideas during the last five years. The present work is the fruit of good many years of reflection on this question. I would like to express my indebtedness to all those who have written on the theme before me and whose works I have read and reflected upon. As I have read and thought I have learned a great deal to my profit. Although there are some works I may have forgotten to acknowledge, there are others that deserve some special mention. My analysis of the history of Christian funerals (chapter 1) was inspired by James White's book Introduction to Christian Worship (1990). I have also profited a great deal from the research done in the 1960's by Joseph Kumbirai. Chapter 2 was influenced by his notes Shona Beliefs of the Dead (1964) and Burial Rites. Chapter 4 is indebted to Dr. Paul Gundani's essay ―Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual in the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe‖ in Theology Cooked in an African Pot (1996/1997). Although I have been influenced by what I read and observed, the substantive argument of this essay is my responsibility alone. To Fr. Emmanuel Ribeiro I am indebted for the time he gave to reading and discussing chapter 2 with me, and for the cogent suggestions that he made. I owe a debt of gratitude to Fr. Emmanuel Gurumombe S.J. who upon reading the first draft encouraged me to pursue the matter further. I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Thomas Quartier lecturer of the Department of Pastoral Theology Radboud University, Netherlands, for reading the draft from a liturgical point of view. I am still learning much from my seminary teacher Fr. Fredrick Chiromba who has continued to teach me by his comments and corrections on these pages. I am eternally indebted to the late Fr. David Gibbs whose simple and humble life left a lasting impression on me. This work is dedicated to him.

B. Muchemwa Harare, 2006


GENERAL Introduction

Why is it important to study funeral rituals? An anthropological research on death in an African setting is very difficult indeed. The main reason being that death, to most people, is something dreadful and as a result people refrain from talking about it. In Africa, generally speaking, death is not a subject to talk about and the issue has to be avoided at all cost. Some renowned anthropologists and sociologists had the same experience when conducting their researches on African tribes.1 This fear of facing or talking about death is not limited to the Africans alone since before 1955 very few scholars, including anthropologists and sociologists, were interested in giving attention to the subject.2 The same thing can be said about the Shona because they, generally, feel uncomfortable talking about death. Sometimes people avoid the subject by claiming ignorance. Talking about death is regarded as morbid. Although people are afraid of death, death still remains the most common reality, the most profound being of all beings. In Zimbabwe as the number of deaths is on the increase due to the AIDS pandemic, the society feels greatly concerned. Some people start asking serious questions as to what has gone wrong in the society and whether there is anything that can be done towards this scourge. Others appeal for divine intervention, God for the Christians and ancestors for the traditionalists. Of all the rites of passage like birth, initiation and marriage, there is no rite that demands so much ceremony and instils fear as the funeral rite. Since death is such an all-encompassing reality, it seems logical that we would try to understand and explain it. On this note I agree with Chiwangu Kongocha that, ―As far as theology is concerned, the study of death and its meaning is a necessary part of Christian faith, for death itself is a necessary part of nature‖.3 The aim of this research is to investigate the Shona culture in relation to death and burial. In other words, it is an attempt on an African Christian theology of death. The question that motivated me to carry out this research is simply: what is the meaning and significance of the present Christian death and burial rites for the ordinary Shona? I wish to demonstrate that an inculturated Christian celebration of death and burial is much more meaningful to the Shona Catholics than the Roman funeral rite that is a word for word translation of the Latin text. I shall also demonstrate that this process of inculturating Catholic burial can be attained by synthesising the central elements in traditional celebration of death and burial with the Gospel. Thus, this study is interested in the Shona expression of Christian death and burial. The methodology used in this study can be described as descriptive and analytical. This is based on 1) published and non-published literature on Shona traditional burial rituals. This included correspondence I made with different priests on the issue of burial rituals and notes from theological conferences, meetings and winter schools; 2) attending, observing numerous burial rituals, Christian and non-Christian, and interviewing ordinary members of the Church.
1 2

E. Evans – Pritchard, Nuer Religion. (1956), 154. F. Reynolds, & E. H. Waugh, (eds.) Religious Encounter with Death.(1977), xi; P. Aries, ― Western Attitudes towards Death from the Middle Ages to the Present,‖ in Death in America. (1975), vii. 3 C. Kongocha, The Funeral Rites and Inculturation: Towards Liturgical Inculturation," in Spearhead (1986), 40.


When it comes to Shona Catholic burial I had an advantage of being not only a participant observer but a priest and so I had a firsthand experience of the ceremonies and the emotions associated with them and; 3) conducting interviews and informal discussions with ordinary members of the Church. The area of reference for the fieldwork is not the whole of the Shona-speaking districts of Zimbabwe but a small area in and around Harare. Again, my research is about the Shona speaking people as a particular group of the indigenous population of Zimbabwe. Together with the Ndebele, the Tonga and the Venda they constitute the indigenous population of Zimbabwe. There are five tribes among the Shona, the Korekore, Zezuru, Manyika, Ndau and the Karanga. In this study I am concerned about the Shona as a ‗people‘ with a distinct sociocultural identity. I shall not attempt to determine how each of the tribes constitutes a ‗people‘ and how one is unique and different from the other. This is beyond the scope of this research. This study is divided into four chapters. The first chapter traces the development of the Christian funeral from the first century to the present day. In this chapter the history of Christian funerals will be divided into five periods, the patristic and apostolic, the medieval, reformation, the Tridentine and lastly the Vatican II. The second chapter is a detailed study of a traditional Shona burial ritual. The study will look at the different stages of the Shona burial from the time of illness to the actual burial. In the third chapter I shall attempt to examine the development of the present Shona Order for Burial. Emphasis will be put on the Church‘s attitude towards local cultures in mission countries and its reflections in the Zambezi Mission. In the fourth and last chapter I shall present theological and pastoral reactions to the Shona Order for Burial and this will be followed by an in-depth analysis of the rite. This will be followed by my proposal for a revised Shona Catholic burial rite.



The History of the Christian Funerals

INTRODUCTION The Christian funeral is as old as Christianity itself. It grew out of the Church‘s relationship with other cultures in the ancient world. In all religions of the world funerals are visible expressions of the society's views of death and afterlife. Thus, the study of Christian funeral has much to tell us about the Christian concept of life and death or the theology of death itself. My ambition in this chapter is to trace the development of the Christian funerals from the 1st century A.D, with special reference to the Catholic funeral rites. I shall attempt to illustrate the challenges that contributed to the growth of Christian understanding of death and also how the socio-cultural environment of the early centuries played a major role in this process. The chapter is divided into five sections. The first section looks at the growth of Christian funerals from 100-799 A.D., in what I call the patristic and apostolic period. The second section looks at the medieval period from 800-1499 A.D. and the third section is the reformation period from 1500-1600 A.D. In the fourth section I shall look at the Tridentine period 1700-1962 A.D., and the last section deals with the Vatican II period from 1965 to the present. 1.1.1 THE APOSTOLIC AND PATRISTIC PERIODS (100-799 A.D)

Church historians and scholars generally agree that there is nothing in the New Testament about Christian funerals and that there is very little information from the first four centuries A.D (Rutherford, 1983: 37-39; Duncan-Jones, 1950: 617). While it is true that the earliest funeral rites in written form emerge after that period, funeral rituals were part and parcel of early Christian worship. There is some evidence of the existence of some form of recognisable funeral ceremonies in the early centuries. Hippolytus of Rome (c.170-c.236) mentions that there was a Christian cemetery during his time and argued that the price of burial was to be kept within the reach of the majority.4 Jerome (c.342-c.420), in his account of the death of Paul the Hermit, speaks of the singing of hymns and psalms while the body is being carried to the grave as an observance belonging to ancient Christian tradition. Tertullian (c.165-c.225), another Christian writer, talks about a funeral celebration on the anniversary of death.5 Serapion (died after 360), an Egyptian bishop of Thmuis, gives us a prayer for the deceased before burial. Gregory of Nyssa (c.330-c.395) in his detailed description of the funeral of his sister Macrina,6 Augustine of Hippo (c.354-c.430) in his references to his mother Monica and many other documents like the Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo Dionysius make it abundantly clear that in the 4th and 5th centuries the offering of the Eucharist was the most essential feature in the last solemn rite. The Apostolic Constitutions, dated between the 2nd and 5th centuries, and which probably contains customs of the post-apostolic time, gives us a detailed description of the burial

4 5

A. Savioli, ―The Final Resting Place of Deceased Christians‖ Concilium 2/4. (1969), 32. J. Donaldson, (ed). Ante-Nicene Fathers. (1899), 94. 6 W. MaComber, "The Funeral Liturgy of the Chaldean Church," Concilium 2/4 (1969), 19.


customs in the early Church.7 It states that the early Christian burial service was looked upon as the duty of the congregation. Hymns of the thanksgiving for the deceased were sung and prayers by the living were spoken that they too might enter eternal life. The bishop pronounced thanks that the deceased had persevered in his/her faith and in Christian warfare even up to death. The Eucharist was celebrated at the burial of the dead, thus placing special emphasis on the doctrine of the Una Sancta, that those on earth and those in heaven belonged to one holy body of which Christ was the head. Joseph Briffa gives us a more detailed analysis of the early Christian funeral ritual that was probably used in the early Church around the 4th century A.D. According to Briffa, the celebration of Christian burial in the early Church consisted of four distinct phases symbolically linked to each other. These are 1) Rites for the Dying, 2) Preparation for Burial, 3) Procession to the Grave and, 4) Commemoration of the Dead.8 a. The moment of death The rituals for the dying were very important in the early Christian funeral rites. The most important part of this rite was the administration of Holy Communion to the dying as a viaticum, a provision for the journey to the next world. Church historians generally believe that, originally, it seems viaticum was meant to replace the Greek custom of placing a coin in the mouth of the dead as payment to Charon.9 The similarity between the Christian viaticum and this ancient Greek custom, in spite of the new meaning, could be seen in the custom of administering the Holy Communion even to a corpse.10 The major concern of fellow Christians at this stage was to facilitate a quick and safe integration of the soul of the deceased into the next world. Another important part in the preparation of the dying was to make sure that the dying was in communion with the Church. Consequently, catechumens were baptised through sprinkling and penitents or those regarded as sinners were readmitted to communion if they were at the point of death. Again, emergency baptism was allowed for infants and some Christians even demanded that some of their deceased relatives should be baptised.11 b. Ritual of Burial Preparation Immediately after death, the eyes and mouth of the deceased were closed and the body was then prepared for burial. In the first place, the body was washed and clothed in white linen.12 L. Eisenhofer and J. Lechner describe this procedure nicely when they wrote: The early Christians paid great respect to the mortal remains of the departed because their bodies had been temples of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, this respect was also

T. P. Bradtke, "Christian Burial", Unpublished Essay. Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Wisconsin. (June 11-12, 1962), 4. 8 J. M. Briffa, ―Celebration of Christian Death in the 3rd and 4th centuries," christian death/death-htmI (09/09/2002). 9 The ferryman who operates the only boat across the river Styx that separates the world of the living from the Underworld. Cf. J. Upton, ―Christian Death,‖ in Dictionary of Sacramental Worship. (1990), 141. 10 Various Church Councils (Hippo 393, Carthage 419 & 525, Auxerre 578 and Trullo 692) condemned this practice of giving communion to the dead. Paxton, Christianising Death, 33. 11 F. S. Paxton, Christianising Death. (1990), 40. 12 A. S. Duncan-Jones, ―The Burial of the Dead,‖ in Liturgy and Worship. (1950), 618.


derived from the belief that the bodies of the departed were to rise and be glorified. When death had ensued, the eyes of the dead were closed, the body was washed, the limbs were swathed, and lastly the whole body was wrapped in a linen sheet with myrrh and aloes. Later the body was laid upon a couch in a room. Relatives and intimate friends were let in to view the face of the deceased.13 The Christian preparation of the body seems to have borrowed extensively from the ancient Roman burial practices. In the interval between death and burial, a death watch or, to use the modern term, a night vigil was held at the home of the deceased where the body was kept for the night. The local community, led by the priest, would say prayers to accompany the deceased. Again, it was also an occasion for friends to condole the relatives of the deceased with the singing of psalms. c. Ritual Procession Since people were buried outside the city walls the funeral procession was an important part of the rite. In contrast to the Roman custom, instrumental music and noisy demonstrations of grief were not allowed in the Christian funeral procession. Young men carried the bier to the place of burial outside the city or village. According to A.C. Rush, the early Christian funeral procession was characterised by a triumphal spirit.14 The body was carried on the bier, with the head raised and exposed. During the procession, nobody mourned, and joyful psalms and hymns were sung. The funeral took place during the day unlike the pagan funerals that were carried during the night. A.C. Duncan-Jones wrote: ―The procession had a character of its own. It was a triumphal procession. …this character was given to it by the torches carried, waving palm-branches and the smoking incense, by the frequent cries of ‗Alleluia‘‖.15 This early Christian attitude towards death can be understood better if we bear in mind that the early Christian funerals involved a tension between the sadness of death and the belief in heavenly bliss. The playing down of grief and traditional ways of mourning was, in a way, an attempt to ignore death and pretend that it did not exist. Cyprian, one of the Church fathers, urged the Christians to wear white at funerals and stop the practice of wearing black clothes during funeral because it did not reflect the Christian belief that the dead were already in paradise.16 He urged the Christians to stop mourning the dead since this may lead the unbelievers to think that the faith Christians profess in God is not genuine. To him all the dead immediately entered the presence of Christ. Cyprian‘s doctrine of after-life discouraged expressions of grief, which he condemned as ‗unchristian, and turned funerals into celebrations of triumph.17 In the same vein, John Chrysostom (c.347-c.407) taught that: ... in the future no one should mourn and lament any longer and bring the saving work of Christ into discredit. For he has conquered death. Why then do you mourn unnecessarily? Death has become sleep. Why do you wail and weep? It is ridiculous when pagans do it, but when a believing Christian is not ashamed of such conduct,
13 14

Quoted by F. - X. Kyewalyanga, Traditional Religion Custom and Christianity in East Africa. (1976), 179. Cited by Kyewalyanga, Traditional Religion Custom and Christianity in East Africa, 289. 15 Duncan-Jones, ―The Burial of the Dead,‖ 619. 16 J. P. Burns, ―Death and Burial in Christian Africa: The Literary Evidence,‖ 4. burns/chroma/burial/ Burnsburial.html (03/01/2004). 17 Burns, ―Death and Burial in Christian Africa: The Literary Evidence,‖ 4.


what excuse does he have? What pity do these people deserve who are so foolish and how, after much time, have such clear proofs of the resurrection.18 Because of the above mentality burial became a Christian duty. The places where the bodies of Christians were laid were seen as sleeping places where people could go and offer prayers for the dead. They were considered as holy places because they reflected the expectation of a new and better life. According to Duncan-Jones from the 8th century in England, it was a custom for the bishop to set apart places of burial by a solemn act of consecration.19 d. Ritual Internment The beliefs surrounding the disposal of dead bodies are an interesting factor in early Christian thinking. The body of the deceased was considered something sacred. In view of its sacredness it was handled and treated with utmost respect, hence, the earliest Christian practice was to bury the dead in graves rather than cremate them. The concept of the resurrection helped to create the idea that the dead were merely sleeping and, therefore, comfort for the body was necessary. This preference towards burial was inherited from Jewish beliefs and practices. According to the belief of the early Christians, the burial of the dead body duplicated the mode of Christ's burial. According to some scholars early Christians just like the Jews were buried on the day of death. This was different from the Roman custom of elaborate funeral rituals that took many days. There were two kinds of cemeteries that were used in the early Christian centuries: the open air and the underground or catacombs. At the grave there was a prayer or commendation before burial. In the early Christian centuries it is not clear whether the burial itself included a celebration of the Eucharist. In some instances, the Eucharist seems to have been celebrated soon after burial.20 According to Rush, the early Christians had a custom of giving the body a farewell kiss before it was lowered into the grave.21 This was a symbol of love and sacredness of the body. When the body was lowered into the grave, it was placed in a lying position with the head facing the east, that is, waiting for Parousia (the second coming of Christ). e. Ritual Funeral Meals A regular feature of funeral practice in ancient Roman culture was the refrigerium or refreshment meal held after burial and the anniversary of the death of the deceased. This celebration was characterised by a gathering at the grave followed by food and drink. Since, it was believed that the deceased was present, a place and a portion of the meal were set aside for the deceased. According to Peter Mpagi, in some places, a hole was dug at the grave and a pipe leading down to the corpse was placed in it, through which some drink and food was poured down to the deceased.22 Such meals were meant to mark the transition of the dead person from the world of the living, to the world of the dead and also served to organise the


Quoted by L. Larson - Miller, "In Sure and Certain Hope: The Ritual of Christian Death," The Way (1993), 270. 19 Duncan-Jones, ―The Burial of the Dead,‖ 618. 20 D. Sicard, "Should there be a Funeral Mass?" Concilium (1969), 23. 21 Kyewalyanga, Traditional Religion Custom and Christianity in East Africa. 195. 22 P. W. Mpagi, "The Theology of the Departed and a Suggested Service," ACS, (1989), 49.


grief and mourning. Again, there is a possibility that they were connected with the idea that the dead needed nourishment in the afterlife. At first the early Christians accepted the funeral meals as they regularly attended them and also held them at the graves of the martyrs and at the anniversary of their dead. To some Christians this practice of refrigerium may have suggested a symbol of the Eucharist. However, abuses connected with the meal led to its eventual condemnation by the Church authorities at the end of the 4th century.23 According to Julia Upton: ―Often they became occasions of such raucous behaviour that most of our knowledge of them is derived from various bishops condemning them‖.24 Although there arose many abuses out of the custom of the refrigerium, they had a positive meaning. The custom shows that there is a mutual relationship between the living and the departed. The refrigerium was meant to teach and express this union. That was the conviction of the early Christians that the living members of the Church pray for the dead and that the dead themselves pray for the living. As Joseph Jungmann wrote: ―Naturally no one thought that the martyrs had need any longer of earthly food, but it was considered a practical way to express companionship and communion with the dead, with the martyrs‖.25 1.2 THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD (800-1499 A.D.)

The medieval practice of Christian burial was different from that of the early Christian centuries. There was a change from glad confidence in the love of God to an emphasis on the judgment of God. The emphasis came to be laid on the period of purgation and this had a marked influence on the celebration of funerals.26 As a result of this attitude funerals were abused as they were now being used as a threat to discipline and instil fear into the living. The early Christian attitude of triumphalism and longing for the second coming of Christ disappeared and was replaced by fear of Christ and punishment. Consequently, people became very much concerned about avoiding sin and escaping hell. As James White wrote: "The medieval mind tended to think that if one could scare the hell out of people it might be possible to scare them out of hell‖.27 The influence of this attitude is evident in the medieval paintings. Most Churches built during this period have graphic and poignant frescoes of the last judgment displaying the suffering of the condemned souls. John Hinton describes this in a masterly fashion: The horrors of death have been emphasised by moralists to encourage men to mend their evil ways. Artistic representations from the Middle Ages show death as a malignant, skeletal figure with a scythe, hour-glass, sword, fatal darts and the like, cutting down man in his vice and folly.... Moralists also impressed the power of death upon those who needed warning to cease evil-doing. A neutral picture of death was not considered sufficient to convert the unbeliever. To encourage the spiritual laggards there have been terrifying portrayals of death and damnation. Death has been depicted as a loathe-some figure of decaying flesh with its skull-like head bearing a sadistic
23 24

Cf. Burns, ―Death and Burial in Christian Africa: The Literary Evidence,‖ 3-7. Upton, ―Christian Death,‖ 141. 25 J. Jungmann, The Early Liturgy-To the time of Gregory the Great. (1972), 183ff. 26 A. Guverich, Medieval Popular Culture. (1988), 4-82. 27 White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 290.


smile, hell pictured as full of suffering and torture... The medieval Ars moriendi was a religious treatise that illustrated legions of horrible and persuasive demons increasing their insidious assaults on man as he weakened in his last illness. Demons offering crowns were opposed by angels exhorting the dying to humility and indicating the benefits of Christian faith.28 In preparing the body for burial incense, myrrh and other perfumes were applied to mask odours from the corpse. The funeral liturgy would begin at the house of the deceased where the priest said prayers and psalms and from there the body was taken to the church. The spirit or character of the procession differed very much from that of the early period. The relatives and friends still carried torches and the body was incensed. But it was no longer a triumphant procession; it was a sad and mournful cortege. The mourners were not dressed in white, but in black and the same colour of the cloth covering the body. The psalms that were sung were penitential psalms, with psalm 51, the Miserere (―Have mercy on me, O God,‖) being the most popular one.29 At the church the body was met at a gate called the 'corpse gate', carried into the church with psalms. After the celebration of the Eucharist, the priest would take off his chasuble and perform a short service over the body. Originally this consisted of incensing, sprinkling of holy water and the granting of absolution. The absolution granted to the deceased shows a great change from the early Church's sense of triumphant victory. The funeral procession would proceed to the cemetery. Burial was done in the churchyard or in the church, depending on the social status of the deceased. Before the service began the priest would make the sign of the cross over the spot, sprinkle it with holy water and dig lightly the shape of a cross. Now the grave was properly dug while psalms were sung. The body was lowered into the grave and a final prayer of forgiveness said. The grave was filled with soil and the procession would return to the church.30 The focus on judgment and the possibility of damnation was so different from the clear confidence of early Christians. As Duncan-Jones wrote: ―It would be difficult to exaggerate the degree to which the whole of later medieval worship was dominated by the thought of the departed, and particularly by the need for shortening the pains of Purgatory. This excessive domination to some extent explains the violent reaction of the Reformation against prayer for the departed altogether‖.31 1.3 THE REFORMATION PERIOD (1500-1699 A.D.)

The 16th century brought about the Reformation and with it drastic changes in the liturgy of the church. Of major importance was the rejection on biblical grounds the doctrine of purgatory, the sacrifice of the Mass for the dead, the mediation of the priesthood and the prayers for the dead. These beliefs laid the groundwork for changes or reforms in funeral customs and practices. In the first place, Martin Luther condemned the Roman funeral liturgy as too sorrowful and without any expression of hope. Luther insisted that the funeral should
28 29

J. Hinton, Dying. (1967), 39. Duncan-Jones, ―The Burial of the Dead,‖ 620. 30 Duncan-Jones, ―The Burial of the Dead,‖ 620. 31 Duncan-Jones, ―The Burial of the Dead,‖ 622.


not be an occasion for sorrow. Sorrowful chants therefore should not be sung. Christians should sing chants calling for repentance, peace, sleep, life and resurrection. The Reformers insisted that the funeral should also be a sign of love and friendship among Christians. The funeral should be a reminder of one‘s personal death and a warning to prepare well. For the Christian, funerals should be an occasion to express in words of praise and honour, the article of their faith: ―The resurrection of the dead‖.32 To Luther the funeral was a symbol of the resurrection. As Ulrich Leopold puts it: He also condemned what he termed "popish abominations, such as vigils, masses for the dead, processions, purgatory, and all other hocus-pocus on behalf of the dead" In favour of services emphasising the resurrection of the dead with "comforting hymns of forgiveness of sins, of rest, sleep, life, and the resurrection of departed Christians.33 Bradtke gives us a beautiful summary of Luther's attitude towards the Catholic burial when he wrote: The Lutheran Reformation rediscovered the Scriptural doctrine that this life is man's time of grace and that the Means of Grace, the Gospel and the Sacraments, and the gift of prayer have been given to benefit and save the living. While the Roman Church at its burial service conducts the rites for the benefit of the dead body, the Lutheran Reformation devoted its attention to the living. While the Roman service centres upon the dead, the Lutheran service endeavours to comfort and edify the survivors, for the Lutheran Church the burial is the final act in the interest of one whose eternal welfare has now been decided...Hear Luther as to what the Lutheran Reformation accomplished in regard to the dead and Christian Burial. ‗...we have driven the pestilential abomination from our churches, such as vigils, masses for the dead, processions, purgatory, and all other mockery and hocus pocus on behalf of the dead...nor do we sing a funeral hymn or doleful songs over our dead and at the graves, but comforting him, of the forgiveness of sins of rest, of sleep, of life, and of the resurrection of Christians who have died, in order that our faith may be strengthened and the people moved to proper devotion....34 The Reformers insisted that Christians should be appropriately buried and the places should be properly maintained. Since burial was a concern of the church as a community even when the poor were buried, the ringing of bells summoned the congregation to a burial. In church the funeral service consisted of the singing of hymns and the reading of biblical texts. These were supplemented by a brief sermon on death and resurrection. At the grave itself, prayers were recited, appropriate biblical passages were read and the passing of alms boxes or collecting plates encouraged almsgiving for the poor. But the Reformers did much more that merely effect a few outward changes in customs of Christian burial. To them the biblical principles were the exact opposite of what Rome was teaching. How did Luther's burial rite look like? According to White, it seems Luther never composed any burial rite but may have used hymns, psalms, and a very simple ceremony. 35 In
32 33

Kyewalyanga, Traditional Religion Custom and Christianity in East Africa, 289. Quoted by White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 291. 34 Bradtke, "Christian Burial", 4. 35 White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 291.


1645 a procession was added to the Lutheran funeral liturgy but the body was buried without any elaborate ceremony. Basically, the original Lutheran burial service seems to have consisted of psalms, scripture passages, sermon and prayers. In the Anglican Church, the first funeral rite came out in 1549. In this rite there are four main elements that are recognisable which are (1) the procession, (2) the actual burial, (3) the Office of the Dead and, (4) a Funeral Mass. The procession was rather short. It started from the house and then to the church, and from the church to the grave with psalms being said or sung. The prayers included a commendation of the soul to God and there was provision for the celebration of the Mass at a funeral. In 1552 the funeral rites were cut down, and there was no provision for Mass or for any service in the church at all. The whole rite took place at the grave. In 1662 the rite was restored but the Mass was not. Then from 1644 to 1662 burial services were forbidden altogether.36 1.4 THE TRIDENTINE PERIOD (1700-1962 A.D.)

According to Clifford Howell, from Trent to Vatican II, the structure of the Church‘s funeral rite was based on the Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual) of 1614.37 Basically, the funeral rite comprised of the following parts: -1) Blessing of the body at home; 2) Carrying of the body to the Church; 3) Mass; 4) Forgiveness of sins; and 5) Burial.38 The first stage of the burial rite was the blessing of the deceased at home.39 The priest wearing black vestments would go to the house of the deceased with his assistants carrying the cross and holy water. On arrival at the home of the deceased the priest would sprinkle the body with holy water and then recite psalm 130 De profundis (―Out of the depths‖) with the antiphon Si iniquitates from psalm 130:3 (―If you, O Lord, should mark our iniquities‖,). Afterwards the body was carried in procession with lights to the church. During the procession the priest would chant the antiphon Exsultabunt Domino ossa humiliata (―The bones that lie in the dust shall thrill with pride before the Lord‖), and then recite psalm 51 Miserere. On reaching the church the antiphon Exsultabunt is repeated, and as the body enters the church the priest would recite the Subvenite (Come to his assistance you Saints of God, come to meet him you Angels of the Lord‖).40 Afterwards the body was carried into the church and placed in the middle of the church, with the feet to the altar if the deceased was a layperson, the head to the altar if the deceased was a priest. Candles were lighted round the coffin, and the Mass of the dead was celebrated. The rite of absolution follows the Mass. The priest removes the black chasuble and puts on a cope of the same colour. He stands at the foot of the coffin. Then after the Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison (―Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us‖) the priest recites the Pater Noster (―Our Father‖) and then he would go around the coffin, sprinkling it with holy water and bowing profoundly before the cross when he passes it. After that he would incense the coffin in the same way. Finally, after finishing the

36 37

Duncan-Jones, ―The Burial of the Dead,‖ 622. C. Howell, "Funerals", in Pastoral Liturgy. (1975), 275. 38 A. Fortescue, The Ceremonies of the Roman Ritual Described (1943), 406. 39 H. Thurston, ―Christian Burial,‖ la.htm (19/01/2005). 40 Thurston, ―Christian Burial‖.


Pater Noster and chanting one or two antiphons he would pronounce the prayer of absolution.41 After absolving the deceased, the body is carried to the grave and as the procession moves along psalm 108 Diligo Dominum (―My heart is steadfast, O Lord‖) is recited together with the antiphon in paradisum (―May the angels escort you to paradise‖). On arrival at the cemetery the grave is then blessed if it has not been blessed previously. This blessing is short and consists only of a single prayer after which the body is again sprinkled with holy water and incensed. Apart from this the service at the graveside is very brief. 42 The priest would chant the antiphon ego sum resurrection et vita ("I am the Resurrection and the Life"), and the coffin is then lowered into the grave while the Benedictus, Luke 1: 68 (―Blessed be the Lord God of Israel‖) is being sung or recited. Then the Pater Noster is repeated silently, while the coffin is again sprinkled with holy water, and finally the prayer for the soul of the departed is said. Comparing with the ancient rites the 1614 rite shortened the part of the funeral rite that took place at the graveside. Again, the centre of the rite was the celebration of the Mass and not the office of the dead. Further, the rite exalted the prayer of the priest and neglected the role of the laity in the funeral liturgy. Lastly, the rite attempts to bring back the spirit of solemnity and impending judgement, aspects that were subject to ridicule and criticism by the Reformers.43 In his analysis of this ritual Durig wrote: ―Despite the latter liturgical elements which over stress the thought of the inevitable judgment, the themes of hope from the early Christian rites and the theme of Christian fellowship as an assurance of final glory are clearly present in this rite...‖.44 1.5 THE VATICAN II PERIOD (1965- )

Vatican II is considered as the most defining moment in the history of the Church. The deliberations of the Council had a lasting impact on all areas of Church life. While there were, and still are, dissenting voices on the outcome of the Council, theologians agree that the Council came at the most opportune time in the history of the Church. Church liturgy also underwent great and profound changes after the Council. This section would like to specifically examine the effect of the Council on the Church funerals and the challenges that led to the revision of the 1614 rite. a. Revision of the Funeral Rites (1965-1969) At the beginning of Vatican II the Church ordered that the Ritual of 1614 be revised because the rite had several shortcomings. In the first place, the rite did not have the appearance of a celebration and was exclusive and unintelligible to the people. Secondly, it had been put together by selection from an enormous variety of Latin prayers and hymns that had been in use in different countries of Europe. Thirdly, the Church wanted to reassert the doctrine of purgatory and the necessity of praying for the dead that were being eroded by the teachings of
41 42

Thurston, ―Christian Burial‖. Thurston, ―Christian Burial‖. 43 P.-M. Gy, ―The Liturgy of Death: The Funeral Rite Of The New Roman Ritual,‖ The Way (1970), 60-62. 44 W. Durig, "Burial," in Sacramentum Mundi I. (1968), 239.


the Reformers. Fourthly, the 1614 rite was entirely and exclusively clerical; the faithful did not take any part beyond being present and joining their intentions to the prayers and responsorial sung on their behalf in Latin by the clerics. Liturgy was something done by the clerics and their trained assistants in the name of the church for the benefit of the faithful who, however, were not agents in the performance but only spectators and beneficiaries. Again, a strong influence in the formation of that rite was the reaction of the West, especially in the 9th and 10th centuries, against Arianism that denied the divinity of Christ. The Church reacted by emphasising the divinity of Christ. The truth that Christ was God was hammered into the people in every possible way. Although his humanity was never denied, it received comparatively little attention because the heretics had not denied it. So the people were constantly being reminded of what separated them from Christ (his Godhead) rather than of what united them with Christ (his human nature). This attitude of fear and sin-consciousness was expressed in many hymns and prayers of those days, some of which found their way into the funeral services. Although hope in the resurrection and the joys of heaven were not excluded from mention, these themes were very much overshadowed by the far more extensive development of themes concerning guilt, punishment, fear of hell and the need for intercession, with the result that the 1614 rite, taken as a whole, was somewhat grim. A subcommittee of the Consilium was then set up to collect information about what was actually happening in various countries, and to revise the funeral rites accordingly. The revision of the funeral rite had two main objectives; 1) to set out clearly the essential elements of the tradition together with their doctrinal implications and, 2) to ascertain the actual practice and needs in different countries. The first draft of the new rite came out in 1965, and was used ad experimentum in several countries for two years, after which reports were sent to the subcommittee that examined them thoroughly. These reports showed that people had given an overwhelming approval to the general tone of the new rite, on account of the prominence it gave to the paschal character of Christian death and explicit insistence on faith in the resurrection. These things had eliminated the excessively sin-conscious tone of the former rite. The provision it made in the new rite for active involvement of the people was also highly appreciated. The Subcommittee now revised their first draft. They incorporated many things that had been suggested and eliminated others which had been criticised. The Bishops of the Consilium approved the revised version in October 1968; the following month it received the approval of Pope Paul VI who ordered its promulgation and that took place on 15th August 1969. b. The Rite of Funerals (1969) Since the Church today has no prescribed rites regarding the treatment of the dead body immediately after death, Vatican II recommends that the Christian rites should correspond to the traditional burial rites of each individual region. The Council adds that the rites should be a commemoration of Christ‘s resurrection rather than an expression of sorrow: ―The rite for the burial of the dead should evidence clearly the paschal character of Christian death, and


should correspond closely to the circumstances and traditions found in various regions. This latter provision holds good also for the liturgical colour to be used‖.45 Thus, the traditional rites for Christian burial were viewed as an expression of gloom rather than of the paschal mystery. Christ‘s resurrection and our own entrance into his life and resurrection should be the themes of Christian death and its ritual expression. This expression of hope is clearly evident in the Rite of Funerals of 1969. The rite says that the vigil for the deceased may take place in the chapel or in a special room reserved for such purpose or at the home of the deceased.46 The prayers recited at the vigil are the short litany of saints, because the Catholics believe that the saints come to meet those dying in Christ. Other prayers recited are, proficiscere (―Depart, Christian soul‖), deus misericors, deus clemens (―The Merciful God, the King God‖), suscipe servum (―Save, O Lord the soul of your servant‖), delicta inventutis (Ask of the help of the Blessed Virgin Mother‖), clementissima (―Ask for the help of St. Joseph‖), the psalms and other prayers for the dead.47 The deceased is sprinkled with holy water as a symbolic renewal of baptism. On the day of burial the priest, wearing a surplice and stole, goes to the house or chapel where the corpse lies waiting for burial. He first greets those present and sprinkles the corpse with holy water and recites the following psalms: dominus pasciet, psalm 23 (―The Lord is my shepherd‖), in exitu Israel de Aegypto, psalm 113 (―When Israel went out of Egypt‖), de profundis, and an oration. While the body is being carried to the church in procession, the priest recites the psalm Miserere. After the ‗Requiem Mass‘, the priest recites other prayers to commit the dead to God.48 The procession to the cemetery follows the church service. While the body is being carried out of the church, the priest recites the antiphon in paradisum deducant te Angeli (―May the angels lead you into paradise‖). Thereafter he chants another antiphon, ego sum resurrection. During the procession to the cemetery, various psalms are sung.49 When the funeral procession has reached the grave, the priest blesses the grave, and says a prayer. The priest carries out other rituals, such as sprinkling the dead body and the grave with holy water, and incensing the two. After these rituals follows a prayer of the priest asking God to forgive the deceased and to grant him/her eternal peace in heaven. After the priest‘s prayer, the body is lowered into the grave. The priest drops first some soil into the grave upon the body three times, and the relatives do the same. The 1969 rite provided three basic types of funeral liturgy. For the sake of clarity and brevity let me set these types in tabular form: Type I Type II Type III Service in the home Service in cemetery chapel (Reception into church) Liturgy of the Word, then Mass in Church, followed by Final Commendation and Final Commendation and Farewell Farewell Service at the graveside Service at the graveside Service in the home
45 46

Vatican II, S.C., n.81. Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, O. E., nn. 3, 26. 47 O.E., nn. 27, 30, 31. 48 O.E., nn. 39, 41, 46-48. 49 Kyewalyanga, Traditional Religion Custom and Christianity in East Africa, 188.


c. Order of Christian Funerals (1989) While the Rite of Funerals in its English edition, was hailed by many theologians as a profound example of the spirit of Vatican II, because of its emphasis on resurrection and the respect of the culture of the people, some theologians and psychologists thought that a more direct link was not established between the rite and the stages of human grieving. In spite of the tremendous progress made liturgically, by including prayers for the mourners, the most common objection was that the rite emphasised the fear of judgement, the terror of death itself and need for mercy. It encouraged people to be afraid of their Redeemer, to concentrate on their own sinfulness rather than on the grace of God. These problems eventually led to the revision of the funeral rites for the Catholic Church throughout the world. A new funeral rite, The Order of Christian Funerals (OCF, hereafter), took effect on 2nd November 1989 and it corrected the flaws found in the preceding rite of 1969. As Ernest Sands wrote: The Church is challenged by the Order of Christian Funerals. It is challenged not only to respond to the needs of its deceased members and those who mourn them, but to do so in a way which truly reflects the richness and diversity of God's compassion made visible in the Body of Christ. It is challenged to be fully Church. It is generally accepted that some of the earlier liturgical revisions suffered from a less developed sense of Church and of ministry... Coming after a quarter-century of theological and pastoral reflection, of the liturgy shaping and mirroring our understanding of Church, the Order of Christian Funerals redress this balance...50 First, the book has several rites that were not included in the Rite Of Funerals. These are called 'Related Rites and Prayers' and they include 'Prayers after Death,'.51 'Gathering in the Presence of the Body',52 and 'Transfer of the Body to the Church or to the Place of Committal.' A Church minister or a member of the family may celebrate these prayer services. The 'Prayers after Death' include readings from the Bible, a prayer for the deceased, and a blessing for the family. 'Gathering' is a set of prayers the family and friends may recite on this occasion. It may take place in the hospital, the home, or funeral parlour. 'Transfer of the Body' marks the departure from the home to the Church, or from the Church to the final resting place if some time elapses between the funeral Mass and the committal. The 1989 rite also acknowledges the vast number of lay ministers who care for the dead and the bereaved. Curiously, the word 'rosary' does not occur in the 1989 rite. Nowhere does the rite suggest the rosary for vigil. It notes that the first time the community gathers for prayer is usually the night before the funeral Mass at a 'vigil'. Instead of mentioning the rosary the rite suggests a celebration of God's Word the night before the burial in the home or at the church. However, especially in Africa, the custom of praying the rosary in a funeral home has prevailed where people substitute a Scripture service with the rosary. Further, for the first time a complete service of the Word was made available for the vigil. The rite suggests a service that will resemble the first part of Mass: (1) a greeting, (2) a
50 51

E. Sands, "Ministry in the Order of Christian Funerals," in The Parish Funeral. (1991), 13. Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, O.C.F. nn. 101-118. 52 O.C.F. nn. 109-118.


hymn, (3) a prayer, (4) readings from the Bible, (5) a homily, (6) intercessions, and (7) a closing blessing. This service can be held in the deceased‘s home and a priest, deacon, or layperson many preside over it. Someone who knows the deceased may speak about the meaning of his/her life. Personally speaking, I think that the vigil service has some advantages over the praying of the rosary. First, the vigil enables the community to hear and reflect upon the Word of God especially on the heart of the Christian faith: the death and resurrection of Christ. Second, it is ecumenical in the sense that even people of other Christian denominations, unfamiliar with the rosary, are able to participate. The vigil service can also be held in the church where the funeral will be celebrated the next day. If the vigil takes place in church, the service begins with the community meeting the coffin at the door, it is sprinkled with holy water, and the white pall - a reminder of baptism is placed on it.53 Another option for the vigil is to celebrate Evening Prayer in place of the Word service. In this case, the service begins with a hymn, continues with the singing of psalms, reaches its climax with a reading from the Bible, and concludes with the singing of the Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55 (―My soul magnifies the Lord‖) and other prayers. The reception of the body at the beginning and the final commendation at the end are some of its most distinctive features. The prayers at the reception of the body at the church door stress the Easter/baptismal imagery of Christian death: the sprinkling of holy water, clothing in a white garment and the burning of the Easter candle. In the 1969 rite, when the coffin was sprinkled with holy water and covered with the pall, the minister would just cite passages from St. Paul and comment on them. In the 1989 rite, this commentary is simplified, there is no biblical passage and the commentary is briefer than before since both are covered during Mass. However, the 1989 rite does not suggest the incensing of the body during the preparation of the gifts. If the people are incensed at this time, the body is included as a member of the congregation. The body is incensed during the final commendation. The rite also suggests that a family member or friend of the deceased may speak about the person after the communion prayer or before the final commendation but it does not allow a eulogy to replace the homily.54 The other difference from the 1969 rite concerns the burial service, or 'Rite of Committal.55 The rite suggests that the mourners should be present for the actual burial. The committal of the body to its resting place occurs before the intercessions or after the dismissal. It is important to note that the 1989 rite accepts cremation as another option for the final resting place of the deceased, as long as no anti-Christian motive is intended. However, burial of the body in the earth is an ancient Christian custom that will most likely remain the norm. i. OCF: An Analysis The OCF can be regarded as an improvement of the 1969 rite. There is less emphasis on sin and purgatory, much more on hope and resurrection. The concern of the OCF is to console the living by insisting on trust in a God who is a God of Love. The replacement of black

O.C.F. n. 82. Some theologians who say that eulogies detract from Mass itself and in the process the Christian meaning of death is obscured. The main argument here is that eulogies have to be unreservedly positive - no one wants to hear anything critical about the deceased. Cf. O.C.F. nn. 5, 62, 141, 170. 55 O.C.F. nn. 204.


vestments by white vestments expresses the Christian hope that God is not a God to be feared. He is a giver of peace and healer of souls. Thus, the OCF suggests that the celebration of a Christian death is a journey from death to new life. One of the greatest strengths of the OCF is that it recognises the uniqueness of individuals and provides prayers that recognise different life situations and ages of those who have died. The OCF is not, however, free from faults. It gives no room for the people to confront and acknowledge all those negative feelings which surface in the face of suffering and death: fear, anger, self-justification, reproach, longing for relief, trust, affirmation etc. In other words, the rite did not meet the emotional needs of the bereaved. The value of the 1969 rite was that it handled these needs within the formal control of ritual. The rite silences the voice of protest against God in the death of a loved one. Since the bitter note of protest is one of the most basic human responses to death, the OCF seems ill fitted for those who experience sudden, violent, unjust or cruel deaths. The banishment of the open expression of fear, loss and a sense of punishment, prevent the funeral rite from acting as a truly prayerful expression of the human understanding of death. As Larson Miller wrote: ―Even the popular title 'mass of resurrection' seemed to be a cultural attempt to deny the mourners their grief‖.56 CONCLUSION I have begun this chapter by examining the development of funeral liturgies from the early Church to the present. Although the chapter dwelt much on the Roman Catholic rites, I have tried to highlight the development of the funeral liturgies within the Anglican and Protestant churches. I admit that a full and complete history of Christian funeral liturgies cannot be adequately treated in an essay of this nature. It is worth observing how the Church evolved her funeral liturgy from the beginning. Some pagan practices, such as the washing of the dead, were kept and accompanied by prayers. Others such as ritual lamentation were rejected and were replaced by psalmody. The practice of having a funeral meal at the tomb was replaced by the celebration of the Eucharist. From the above analysis one can conclude that Christian worship was characterised by creativity, improvisation, and variation. Respect for cultural diversity, among other factors, established the parameters within which early Christian worship developed. A process of creative adaptation through which both liturgy and culture were infused and enriched with fresh ideas constantly refined Christian liturgy. In the history of the Christian worship, any reform of the liturgy has always been contextual, that is, to make it more relevant in a particular environment and society. Thus, Christian funerals have always been marked by textual and ritual flexibility.


Larson - Miller, "In Sure and Certain Hope: The Ritual of Christian Death," 279.



Death and Burial in Shona Culture

INTRODUCTION In Zimbabwe, among the Shona speaking people, funeral rites vary considerably from place to place and from tribe to tribe. Funeral rites do not follow a uniform structure. Each tribe has a distinct and, sometimes, unique funeral ritual. Again, each rite has some unique customs that differentiate between the burial of a chief, married adult, unmarried adult, teenager and a baby. However, there is a common thread seen running through all the Shona funeral rites. In this chapter I intend to examine the Shona burial rituals without going into the details that characterise each tribe's uniqueness. I shall only dwell on the commonly shared elements. While there are differences among the tribes on how funerals are conducted, there are also common elements that unify all the Shona tribes. The one I shall analyse in this chapter is the funeral of a married adult. My analysis will be divided into six sections: moment of illness, preparation for burial, procession to the grave, burial and purification. 2.1 THE MOMENT OF DEATH

Among the Shona people death is an affair of the living than of the dying person, though much of the ritual is directed to the care of the deceased‘s spirit. It would appear that at this stage one of the main desires on the part of the mourners is to placate the deceased, to make him/her fit for the abode of the ancestors, that they may receive him/her and that s/he may live with them in peace and contentment. The elaborateness of these ceremonies is a clear sign to the ancestors that the deceased is neither an enemy nor an impostor, but a true and real member of their family and tribe. a. Illness and death Today, if a person falls seriously ill in articulo mortis, a Church minister, among Christians, is called to pray for the sick. Among the Catholics, a priest gives the sick person the sacrament of anointing and Holy Communion. In Shona traditional society, a traditional healer, n’anga, was called to heal the sick using medicine and to determine the cause of the illness. Even today, either the n’anga or the spiritual healer (normally called a ‗prophet‘) is sometimes consulted when western medicine has failed to cure the sick person. In traditional Shona philosophy, there is nothing like a natural death. Whether a person dies as an infant, a teenager, a middle-aged or an old person, it makes no difference. Even a full account of the disease or accident from which a person may have died is not enough to explain fully the cause of death. In fact, it is not enough to find out when and how a person died but also why. To answer the 'why' part of the question we have to probe deeper into the Shona socio-spiritual world for the answer. As William Rayner wrote: ―The MaShona did not accept the death of a man as a natural thing. They wanted to know why one man should be struck down and another spared and, as with an obstructed birth, they felt there must be some conscious agency at work…‖57

W. Rayner, The Tribe And Its Successors. (1962), 65.


The traditional Shona believe that death can come in many ways. There is death by Nyadenga (Act of God, or death from natural causes). This can take place as a direct act of God, through sickness or by accidents, which are supposed to have been arranged by Nyadenga for his own inscrutable causes. Also when divination does not show that the disease has been caused by witchcraft nor by avenging spirits it is presumed that Nyadenga has sent it. Again, there is death by direct human action, that is, by homicide, assault, warfare, and so on. A third category is death by accident (as we would call it) and can be due to (a) Nyadenga; (b) ngozi (the avenging spirit); and (c) varoyi (witches). A fourth category is death by suicide. The Shona say that this can also be caused by (a) Nyadenga; (b) ngozi (the avenging spirit); and (c) varoyi (witches). The fifth category is death by ngozi. This avenging spirit can cause death by accident, by suicide, by sickness; and of all forms of death this is probably considered to be the most common. The sixth category is death by varoyi. This is the next common cause of death and, besides accident and suicide; death can be due to varoyi. The last category is death by offended midzimu (ancestors). Here it is believed that death can occur as the punishment for breaking taboos and offending one‘s ancestors.58 All deaths are accountable in the light of one of these, or a combination of two or all. Only this kind of explanation is acceptable. To say a person died of an accident or by drowning is not enough. The big question that the Shona people will ask is, 'Why did s/he die in that manner? Now, what do the Shona Christians say is the cause of illness today? In early 2004 I carried out an informal survey in a parish I was ministering in, Norton, a township that is a few kilometres south of Harare. The majority of my informants mentioned natural or nonmystical causes as responsible for illness. In many cases the usual answer was ‗it just happened‘, or it was ‗just an illness‘, or ‗I do not know‘. They were not obsessed with identifying the causes of their illnesses. However, some informants ascribe illnesses to witchcraft or sorcery and some believed they were prone to illnesses if their ancestors forsake them. Although I found out that the belief in the ancestors‘ ability to cause illness was strong among them, the people I spoke to did not often ascribe their illnesses to their ancestors. They also believe that God may send particular mishaps to punish sins. Thus, Shona Christians today have a scientific or pseudo-scientific explanation, and acceptance of adversities as part of the natural order. In traditional Shona society, when the condition of the sick person becomes critical, s/he was moved to a temporary hut or shelter (musasa) a short distance from the main village and all the relatives are informed about this move.59 One of the reasons for this isolation was that the Shona believed that death was a dangerous and infectious thing. The danger of death, it is believed, is removed by isolating the sick from the rest of the family. Aschwanden gives another reason when he wrote: ―…children are begotten behind closed doors, and as dying means, so to speak, the beginning (begetting) of new life, this "begetting" also shall take place "behind closed doors", i.e. in a private place‖.60 In the temporary hut the relatives will come and comfort the sick as s/he enters into agony. The sick is not left lying on the mat but is

J. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy. (1969), 156. Cf. also F. H. Melland, In Witch-Bound Africa. (1923), 82-83. 59 R. J. Powell, ―Notes on Burial Customs in the Bushu Reserve,‖ NADA (1956), 7; W. Edwards, "From Birth to Death: Notes on the Natives of the Mrewa District, Southern Rhodesia," NADA (1929), 34; C. Bullock, MaShona Law and Customs. (1913), 43; The MaShona (1927), 265. 60 H. Aschwanden, Symbols of Death (1989), 220


taken on the lap of those who are present. They will be there to collect the last words of the sick as the last request.61 When one's condition deteriorates, one summons one's relatives near and far. One takes this opportunity to announce one's successor and determine how one's property is to be divided. One may also give orders that unfulfilled promises, agreements and debts be settled after death. The fulfilling of promises will facilitate one's passage to the world of the ancestors. According to the Shona traditional thinking, a person was not expected to die in the afternoon. As I shall explain later, the afternoon is not the time of the ancestors and, hence, when one dies in the afternoon there is no one to welcome him/her into the world of the ancestors. As Charles Bullock wrote: Relatives come from afar to see the sick man; and, when death is imminent, they will beseech him not to die before sunset; and, even if breathing has ceased, they may stop the nostrils in an attempt to defer actual dissolution until that time. There is a belief that, when a man is dying, he sees in a vision the spirits of his dead relatives. Some of them take him by the hand, and try to lead him away from life.62 According to Bullock, among the Shona, death was not assumed. How did they know that the person was not in a state of coma but dead? There were two ways of certifying that the person is dead. The first was to pour cold water over the person and if there is no response then the person is dead. Or the person was incensed with smoke from mbanda herbs (tagetes minutablack jack grass) and if the person remains passive then s/he was officially pronounced dead.63 When death occurs, a senior member of the extended family orders the members of the immediate family of the deceased to vacate the hut of the deceased. In some areas immediately, one of the elders of the extended family will go and notify the chief who will send messages to the neighbouring villages. Public wailing starts officially after the chief has been informed. He may come in person to the house of the deceased or simply say that he has heard about the death. The news of death was traditionally announced by emissaries and by means of a drum. The death warning drum (ngoma yehokero) has a unique beat distinguished by its quick and sombre tone.64 In some areas this death-warning drum is accompanied by the wailing notes of a wooden flute, kwenje and tsuri, which are played continuously and simultaneously. 2.2 RITUAL OF BURIAL PREPARATION

Although death is a reality that cannot be escaped, to the Shona death generates both fear and celebration (mysterium fascinans et tremendum). Death is contagious and, thus, the body of the dead should be handled with utmost care. Everything possible is done so as not to incur or arouse the anger of the deceased. The dancing, mourning, and the obscene antics displayed

Bujo says that the fact that people gather around the sick person shows the importance of the value of community among Africans. Dying in traditional Africa has this communal aspect. B. Bujo, African Theology in its Social Context (1992), 114, 116-117. 62 Bullock, The MaShona, 263. 63 Bullock, MaShona Law and Customs. 42 64 M. Gelfand, Shona Ritual (1959), 184.


during this period are meant to appease the spirit of the dead. That explains why people who are close to the deceased do the preparation of the body. This is one of the most important moments in the Shona funeral because it is believed that any slight slip-up has serious consequences not only for the deceased but also for the living. a. Washing and mourning In some places, the body is then taken to the hut used for cooking where it is ritually washed and anointed. In some areas this ritual is carried out by friends of the deceased and, in other places, by the cousins, the in-laws of the deceased, the male nephew (dunzvi or muzukuru) or the ‗ritual friend‘ (sahwira). What is the purpose of this ritual and how is it performed? These ablution rituals are also meant to cleanse or rid the deceased of all the 'dirt' of this world as s/he prepares for the journey to the spirit world. The Shona believe that the dead would not be acceptable by the ancestors if s/he is not washed and properly dressed. Since new life is about to begin, the person is supposed to be clean like a newborn baby. 65 Consequently, it is taboo to bury a person before the washing is done. Kizito Mavima explained this beautifully when he wrote: Mufungwa dzedu munhu anoda kufamba akashambidzika. Idzi ndidzovo fungwa dzatinadzo pakugeza mufi wedu kuti anosvika kwaanoenda akatsvinda nokugamuchirwavo akachena achiyevedza (We know that everybody wants to be clean when travelling. This is what we have in mind when we wash our dead so that s/he looks presentable and is accepted wherever s/he goes). (English translation mine).66 The deceased is washed starting with the head and then the rest of the body. According to the Shona a corpse is washed starting with the head because a person is born the same way in a normal delivery. After the washing or ablution ritual the body is then anointed. This ritual of washing and anointing is always performed with an appeal for "coolness". To be cool, in African traditional religion, is to have life. After the ablution ritual the body is placed on its right side and legs bent upwards and arms folded, with the hands below the chin.67 In my own research I did not come across any Shona tribe that buried its dead with outstretched limbs. 68 There are two reasons that are traditionally given for bending the limbs. One is that: ―… he can then be placed in a shorter grave than would be required if his body were stretched out".69 The other reason was that wrapping material was difficult to come by and, therefore, had to be used economically.70 In my view, another reason could be that the body of the deceased was regarded as a source of danger to the family. The family was vulnerable, not only to the mystical power that caused the death of the deceased, but to the wrath of the

65 66

Aschwanden, Symbols of Death, 220. K. Mavima, Maitiro Okuviga Vafi Vedu (1998), 5. 67 Edwards, "From Birth to Death: Notes on the Natives of the Mrewa District, Southern Rhodesia," 34. 68 Bullock mentioned the Varemba people as an exception, but I could not get any independent collaboration on this. Bullock, The MaShona, 263. 69 P. J. Powell, ―Notes on the ―Kutaya,‖ ―KuKomba‖ and ―Kugara Nhaka‖ Ceremonies of the VaShankwe,‖ NADA (1953): 15. 70 Powell, ―Notes on Burial Customs in the Bushu Reserve,‖ 6-7.


deceased as well. So the folding of the limbs could have been a ritual that symbolised the immobilisation of the deceased in case s/he decides to play havoc with the family.71 The deceased was then ceremoniously wrapped in a blanket (gudza or gondo). Traditionally, among the Korekore, a cowhide or a plaited from the bark of mupfuti tree (brachystegia boehmii) was used for the purpose.72 Sometimes, a blanket made of fibre was used. Today people use any type of cloth for the purpose of wrapping the corpse. The favoured colour is white. Strips of this same cloth are often tied around the head and the arms of the relatives in order to show their unity with the deceased. Meticulous care is taken to see that no red linen or blanket or any covering tinged with red is used. Among the Shona red signifies blood, disaster and the destruction of life. It is a bad omen. Red invites the spirit to come with the wrath of an avenging spirit.73 Again, there is a strong belief that red attracts lightning. It is therefore, not surprising that proper care is taken to see that no red thing comes near the deceased, and that nothing red is buried with him/her. Laying the corpse on its right hand has tremendous symbolic significance. In life the right hand is used for fighting and to pick up objects of all types, good and bad. A corpse was traditionally laid on its right side with the head resting on its right and with its back to the people. Under no circumstances should it face the mourners. The same thing must be done in the grave. The deceased should never be laid in the grave on his/her left side with the right hand up. If the right hand is not pressed under the body at the time of burial, when the spirit of the deceased comes back it will strike with inexorable force and it will bring trouble after trouble.74 As Alfred Burbridge explains: … the posture of the body itself is crucial. Westerners do not appreciate the vital importance of these rituals. …For the right hand signifies agility. Now everything in these rites is designed to diminish the spirit‘s ability to haunt and molest. Buried on his right hand his fearful strength will be crippled.75 When the ablution ritual is over, the body is then placed on a platform made up of poles and fibres and people would then be allowed into the hut and the usual signs of mourning expressed through wailing and crying would start. People will then break the silence at this point, for it is obnoxious to mourn before a person has been washed, anointed and wrapped. The ritual expression of grief is wailing (kuchema). The bereaved, particularly women, and other sympathisers weep loudly. Men usually show restraint. Among the Shona, it is a sacred duty to attend funerals and to express loving sympathy and compassion with the sorrowing friends and relatives of one who has died. In the first place, this is the last respect due to the neighbour. It is to say 'good bye'. Moreover, a lot should be done at such an occasion and everybody must give a hand as more hands make the tasks easier. Again, people feel obliged to be present at the funeral because this is a kind gesture that should be returned when they are also bereaved. Attendance at the funeral is also a way to prove one's honesty and innocence with regard to the cause of death. It removes
71 72

M. W. Murphree, Christianity and the Shona (1969), 36. Powell, ―Notes on Burial Customs in the Bushu Reserve,‖ 6. 73 J. Kumbirai, Burial Rites (n.d.), 1. 74 Kumbirai, Burial Rites. 2. 75 A. Burbridge, ―The Witch Doctor‘s Power. A Study of its source and scope,‖ (1925), 29-30.


suspicion of having caused the death either as a witch or by some other foul means. ―If a village neighbour does not come to a burial we say s/he is unsociable‖. ―And if a person does not go to his/her neighbour‘s burial then at once people say: ‗It was you who bewitched him/her. Why else do you not come to bury him/her?‖ Several of the accusations of witchcraft of which I have heard have been occasioned by a person‘s absence from a village neighbour‘s funeral. It is believed that witches fear to attend the funerals of their victims. Genuine sympathy is a sign of one's blamelessness. As Denys Shropshire well says: Social factors also contribute strongly to secure that the funeral ceremonies are carefully carried out, for, if a near relative did not mourn he would probably be accused of witchcraft and evil intent towards the family of the deceased. This again would seem to suggest that real and genuine sorrow, in whatever degree, is expected among members of the same family. … It seems, therefore, that a further distinction must be made in these ceremonies between the expression of grief and sorrow on the part of the official mourners and the more real, genuine and affectionate sorrow of a wife, of children, and of near relatives, the former often being very perfunctory, though to an onlooker it may appear to be real and genuine.76 People attending the funeral ceremony were expected to bring gifts (chema, zvimiti). Formerly, these gifts used to include bracelets, fowls, beads, hoes, goats, etc., but these days they are usually in the form of money. The purpose of the gifts is to bid farewell to the deceased and to "wipe away tears" of the bereaved. Every gift is announced and this reveals a dominant social pattern in Shona life. There is nothing like anonymous gifts in strictly Shona social patterns. The gift could lose half its value if the giver is anonymous. This is evidenced by the presentation of gifts at a Shona marriage ceremony today. No matter how small a gift is, the name of the giver must be announced and recorded in a notebook. What matters most is not so much the gift but what that gift expresses - relationship. The value of the thing is not in the thing itself but in the intention of the giver. It used to be a custom to bind the heads of the deceased's relatives with fibres and shave them later.77 This was done so as to make it easy for any coming mourners to recognise who the close relatives were and to embrace them or to shake their hands to express their grief. Among the Shona, in some places, a man ties a bark cord around his head and a woman around her neck. To the Shona, a mourner is like a tree from which a bark has been removed, says Aschwanden.78 Another explanation is that a tree starts to bleed when the bark is removed, and this bleeding is referred to as "the tears" of the mourners.79 As I have said above, today, the close relatives of the deceased are conspicuous by strips of white cloth that are tied around their heads and wrists. These strips are thrown into the grave before it is filled with soil. No one is allowed to keep them after the deceased has been buried because this is believed to invite ‗death‘ and calamity into the family.
76 77

D. Shropshire, The Church and Primitive Peoples (1938), 135. Edwards, "From Birth to Death: Notes on the Natives of the Mrewa District, Southern Rhodesia," 40 78 Aschwanden, Symbols of Death, 237; Cf. L. Magesa, African Religion (1997), 147. 79 However, the meaning of this shaving ceremony is well articulated by Laurenti Magesa he wrote, ―… the shaving of the hair (one of the parts of the human body where life is seen to be concentrated) at the death of a relative signifies one's own death, but it emphasizes the importance of strengthening when the hair grows back‖ (Magesa, 147). Cf. also Mbiti, 1975: 115.


Among the Shona today wearing black is a sign of mourning. Women wear full black dress after the death of a husband or a close relative, but for more distant relatives they dress only in partial black. Men do not put on anything black but some, especially in the urban areas, wear a small piece of black material on their sleeves as a sign of mourning. At one of the funerals I attended I asked some people about the symbolism of black and the responses were interesting. Most people interpreted the putting on of black as signs announcing to other people the transitional social status of the bereaved. One informant said if a bereaved person did not wear black you might inadvertently behave inappropriately towards him/her like cracking jokes. This is inappropriate for bereaved persons and those associating with them. He also mentioned the sympathy that the signs of mourning arouse. But the signs also remind the bereaved person to behave appropriately according to his/her condition. Another informant said the black colour of the mourning dress could be explained with reference to ‗shadow of death‘, which is black. ‗Blackness stands for death‘ and for any misfortune. The black of mourning symbolizes the hearts of the bereaved that have turned ‗black‘ through sorrow. b. The ceremonial beast It is a custom among the Shona to slaughter a beast during a funeral. The beast is slaughtered for two purposes. Firstly, the meat is used as relish for the people gathered to mourn the deceased. But the major reason is that it is considered as the meat that goes with the deceased as provision or food for the journey. Before it is killed one of the elders will offer it to the deceased as follows: - "Here is your meat, do not say later on that your brother did not give you meat, that you were never accompanied. This beast is also the relish of the people who are here to mourn you".80 These words will be said whilst the elder is standing by the entrance of the cattle kraal pointing to the beast inside. According to Bujo the ceremonial eating of a beast during funeral represents the African idea of communion between the living and the dead.81 This ritual killing suggests that death is somehow a way to new life or its continuation. This meal, he says, has a sacramental character because the participants are aware of the presence of the departed among them. The meat of the beast nourishes the people, invigorating and sustaining them and, even, in a symbolic sense, giving them life. As Burbridge said: ―The spirit is soothed by being told that his active existence is so fully realised that he is given the food of living mortals and treated as though he still sat in the family board‖.82 Some portion of the meat, breast, liver and small intestines is given to older women and men. Here one can easily see the ritual importance of the abdomen. It is closely associated with fertility, procreation, life, womb and blessing. This meat is eaten unsalted, otherwise one would be 'salting the spirit' (kurunga mudzimu) and arouse its fury. The meat is first roasted on a heath inside the hut where the corpse will be laying in state. This is an important process

80 81

Kumbirai, Burial Rites. 5-6. Bujo, African Theology in its Social Context, 24; E. Hillman, "An Evaluation of Inculturation," AFER (1990), 60; T. Adegemo, Salvation in African Tradition (1979), 33-34. 82 Burbridge, ―The Witch Doctor‘s Power. A Study of its source and scope,‖ 28


and, among the Zezuru, it is known as fumigation – pfungaidzo or manhuwanhuwa.83 The aim is to satisfy the corpse with the fragrance of the meat. Among the Shona, this process of smoking is believed to be pleasant to the deceased because the people will be eating meat in honour of the deceased, "It is in my honour that the smoke goes up". Fire has tremendous significance for the Shona. ―Tagara nguva huru kwazvo mumba medu musina moto (We have lived for quite a long time without fire in our family, that is, without bearing children)‖.84 Fire and smoke signify the presence of life. Therefore, in the process of smoking, the spirit is pleased with people making a fire and producing smoke near its corpse. This is a sign of fire that the mourners are recognising the fact that the spirit of the dead is not dead but alive.85 As the fire that emits smoke is not quenched fire, the corpse that emits smoke is not altogether lifeless, its spirit is living. In Africa, there are times when people and animals are smoked in order to ask for life or receive new life. This is an interesting topic that would take us too far from our subject if we examine it. The relatives of the deceased will also spread over the corpse some leaves of a shrub called zumbani (lippia javanica) that has a fragrant smell that keeps flies away. It is also believed to have the power to chase away evil spirits and is unmistakably connected with life. c. Death watch Among the Shona Catholics today, the death watch takes place at the home of the deceased. The coffin is placed in the centre of the main hut or room. Prayers in the form of litanies are recited for the deceased and singing and dancing punctuate them. Bible preaching is one of the most important parts of this ritual. Scriptural passages that relate to the death of Christ, resurrection, relationship between good works and afterlife are chosen and people take turns to preach on them. In the traditional Shona funeral the death watch was characterised by eating, drinking beer, dancing and singing. Singing and dancing play a central role in Shona funerals since they take away the negativeness of death and help the mourners to regard death in a more positive way. It is normal to sing the songs and perform the dances the deceased used to like.86 It is believed that the deceased would be pleased to have one's favourite dances performed because it was taken as a sign of sincere or genuine grief. Apart from that each totemic group has its own funeral dirges that are sung when a person of the same totem dies. Bridget Chinouriri puts it nicely when she wrote: The (funeral) dirges may carry some significant messages, which may give reference to the good works the dead has done or poetic statements such as "the big tree where the birds rest". This may mean that the dead person was kind to the extent that birds would come and find shelter. This literally meant that in life one was open to everyone in the society. In our African traditions, we treat songs as though they are speech utterances. This may be because of the close relationship between music and language... The performance of music in such funeral contexts provides the opportunity for sharing the creative experience that becomes a form of community.87
83 84

Gelfand, Shona Ritual (1959), 184-185. Kumbirai, Burial Rites. 5-6. 85 Kumbirai, Burial Rites. 5-6; J. Theuws, "Death and Burial in Africa," Concilium (1969), 142.. 86 Kumbirai, Burial Rites. 5-6. 87 B. Chinouriri, "Traditional Ways of Mourning," Sunday Mail Newspaper (2002), C4.


In another article she brings out this point when she says: Music and dance do not only drive away sorrow, but give courage and hope to the bereaved, as they must continue to live in the absence of the dead. Music is also used as a stress-management technique to the mourners who are supposed to spend the whole night singing and dancing, as they reflect on the life of the dead and about their own lives.... Nevertheless, music becomes a therapy as it lessens the pain and burdens of the bereaved.88 d. Digging the grave In urban areas in Zimbabwe, there are cemeteries where everybody, Christian and nonChristian, is buried. However, most of the cemeteries have special sections that are reserved for Muslim and Jewish burials. In the rural areas, each family has an area in which the dead are buried. It may be in crevices or caves on a hill, near the foot of a hill, or a place that is a walking distance from the village. The most usual place is an anti-hill. The grave itself is dug on the day of burial so that witches may not have time to bewitch the grave. Before the grave is dug, a senior relative of the deceased must cut the first sod (kutema rukarwa).89 If a close relative is not available, then it must be one of, at least, the same totem. In other areas, they do not allow gravediggers who have the same totem with the deceased because death is believed to be contagious and therefore should be handled by those of a different totem. The depth of the grave is normally six feet or, in the traditional sense, the height of a fully-grown adult. The reasons given for this depth are to prevent the dead to come out to torment the living and the witches from taking the body of the deceased. In traditional society, the grave of an adult was dug in a dry spot unless the deceased was a woman who has just given birth. An infant was placed in a clay cooking pot, large enough to contain it, and was buried on wet ground (mubani) or at least near a river. Should an infant be buried on a dry place, water must then be poured over the grave. There are three reasons why an infant was buried in damp soil. One of them is that those who have compassionate hearts should be buried on soft ground. Another reason is that if an infant is buried in dry soil, its mother would not have any more children. Again, burying the infant in wet soil was meant to ensure a good rainy season. As the grave is being prepared, people will be collecting stones with which the grave is later built. No one is allowed to carry more than one stone at a time. It is taboo. If two or more stones are carried at a time, it is believed that the spirit of the deceased will strike two or more people at a time. The permissible thing is one person one stone at a time, and should the spirit come back to strike, it will invite two or more spirits to assist it in causing havoc to the living.90


B. Chinouriri, "Music lessens pain and burdens of the bereaved," Sunday Mail Newspaper (2002), C4. Cf. also M. Wilson, Rituals of Kinship among the Nyakyusa (1957), 30. 89 Kumbirai, Burial Rites. 5. 90 A. Hughes, & J. van Velsen, "The Ndebele," in The Shona and Ndebele of Southern Rhodesia (1953), 101.




The burial takes place on the second or third day, sometimes five days after death. 91 As I have stated above a traditional Shona burial ceremony takes place either in the morning or late in the afternoon. No one is buried in the middle of the day.92 According to Shona thinking the ancestors have a timetable. They work in the morning and in the evening from 4 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 3:p.m. to 10 p.m. It is believed that from about 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., the ancestors would be far away. Hence, no activity in which they are concerned can take place in the middle of the day or late at night. This means that a burial ceremony should not be done in the absence of the ancestors, otherwise there is no one to welcome the deceased in the spirit world. When the body is about to be taken to the grave for burial, the master of ceremonies will announce as follows: ―To mothers-in-law, aunts, sisters-in-law, grandsons, we are taking our relative out. Your person is about to go to the grave.‖ If the various relatives of the deceased who are gathered to mourn the dead are not informed of what is about to take place, they will feel insulted. In fact, in some places one will be fined for being impertinent, watishora (You have despised us). Again, in Shona culture a ritual is not an individual ceremony, it involves the whole community, living and dead. That is why these people have to be told officially. Before the body is taken to the grave people are given the opportunity to have a last look at the deceased. This is an expression of attachment to the deceased. One who avoids this last look may be regarded as either an enemy of the deceased, or a very good friend who might be upset by the sight of the dead. Some people who tend to suffer from nervousness or heart trouble also avoid looking. There is an important ritual that used to be performed by the Budja of Mutoko before the body was taken out for burial. I think this is worth mentioning. One of the senior members of the deceased‘s family stands at the door of the hut with a wooden bowl of nhope (unfermented beer) held outside the door, and then blow a tsuri over it, to the west and then to the east. This is done to ‗officially‘ inform the ancestors of the arrival of a new member, inform them that they are about to go to the grave to bury the deceased, and ask for their guidance.93 Before the western coffins were in use, the vazukuru (family of the son-in-law) would prepare a stretcher called hwanyanza or banda.94 This was made up of two strong poles with pieces of bark tied between them to support the body.95 Among the Zezuru the procession was headed by the gravedigger and the undertaker (muvheneki), followed by the pallbearers, the relatives and then the rest of the mourners.96 As they proceed to the grave, the undertakers turn the corpse right round. They will rotate by the right. This process is repeated three times on the way in exactly the same manner. What does this rotation symbolise? Everything that is done for the deceased must be done in such a way that the deceased will not be offended by the ritual and so come back to seek
91 92

This depended on the availability of close relatives who are the main actors in the burial rituals. J. Kumbirai, Shona beliefs of the Dead (1964), 13-14; Hughes, & van Velsen, "The Ndebele," in The Shona and Ndebele of Southern Rhodesia, 101. 93 Murphree, Christianity and the Shona, 36. 94 M. Gelfand, Shona Religion (1962), 121. 95 Powell, ―Notes on Burial Customs in the Bushu Reserve,‖ 7. 96 Edwards, "From Birth to Death: Notes on the Natives of the Mrewa District, Southern Rhodesia,‖ 5.


redress. It is a dreadful thing for the spirit to come back with vengeance and so everything possible must be done to make it impossible for the spirit to come back. The rotation, ostensibly, means that the spirit should not find its way back in case it decides to come back and torment the living. The dead must not only move to the land of the ancestors, s/he must be accepted and be given his/her place there. For the dead, death is a journey and the living are responsible for its success. 2.4 RITUAL OF INTERNMENT

Another moment that demands precision is internment. Unlike the European custom a deceased Shona is not just left in the grave (kusiyiwa muguva) but buried with all the rites and ceremonies. Though different Shona tribes differ in ritual of internment, one thing is made clear: the need for its exact performance. Much of this ceremony seems to suggest the soul is still within the body and therefore at the moment of internment one needs to know how that particular person is buried, when, where and the type of servitors to be buried with the person. a. The cooling ceremony On arrival at the grave, the stretcher bed was laid on the right side of the grave, facing the village. Facing the village meant that the deceased would have a good last look of the village before vanishing into the world of the ancestors. A mat, made out of reeds (rupasa), was then spread in the grave upon which the corpse would be laid. This was not omitted, as it was believed that the deceased would complain that s/he had not been provided with a proper bed. Let it be realised that the mat belongs to traditional Shona society and was the most decent thing to sleep on: 'tsapata rukukwe hazvienzane nokurara pasi (Even a badly worn out mat is better to sleep on than sleeping on bare floor)‘, runs a Shona proverb. The mat was used on very solemn occasions as a sign of respect. Without the knowledge of this traditional significance of the mat a modern Shona will not comprehend why a beautiful made coffin with magnificent drapery is laid on a dirty and worn out reed mat. Some personal objects of the deceased and the stretcher upon which the corpse was carried were thrown into the grave. In some cases this would include bits of planks from which the coffin was made. Also, the handles of the hoes that were used to dig the grave were thrown into the grave. The hoes themselves were 'cleansed' by flames of fire. The reason behind this process was that what had been used in a burial operation must be buried with the deceased. It is an integral part of the Shona burial to put some weeds into the grave. Depending upon the areas, the weeds that are normally used are mahapa (flower gold), garadziva (water lilies), nhokwe (scirpus inclinatus-a river grass) and muswowabeto (asparagus fern).97 These are soft and green plants that thrive where there is water or moisture. These weeds are placed in the grave near the head and feet of the deceased. The head and the feet, according to Shona anatomy, are considered as the principal parts of the body. What is the purpose of placing weeds into the grave? The water lilies and the river-grass are meant to act as coolants, donhodzo, to the spirit of the dead.98 As water is cool, donhodzo is expected to calm down the
97 98

G. Broderick, ―Description of a Pagan Funeral,‖ NADA (1956), 61. Broderick, ―Description of a Pagan Funeral,‖61.


temper of the deceased's spirit if it comes home to visit the living. Since water lilies and the river-grass are soft and tender, so when the spirit of the deceased comes home it is expected to be lenient and merciful as well. It signifies mildness. Therefore, the soft nature of these weeds is what the spirit of the deceased is asked, through symbolism, to adopt.99 Michael Bourdillon reckons that the idea of 'cooling' is common in Shona funeral rites and ―occurs in situations which are with spirits and in which tension is felt‖.100 When a person dies the new spirit becomes part of the community's spiritual world. The spirit, says Bourdillon, would be considered dangerous and unpredictable by the community since nobody knows exactly how it is going to respond to the new world and what grudges it may have against the community.101 Thus, it becomes absolutely necessary to 'cool' the spirit and to prevent it from tormenting the community. In his own words: In the social upheaval caused by death in the community, calm is a benefit, and calm is essential for the spirit of the deceased which is believed to have passed from the life of the living community to a completely novel existence in the community of the spirits. The presumed readiness of the deceased to use his newly acquired spiritual powers and his possible touchiness after the upheaval is a powerful sanction for performing the rituals properly.102 Paul Gundani puts this succinctly when he wrote: What this signifies is that as long as the spirit feels cooled it does not get anxious to go back to the living members for anything. A cool place is good for resting. It is only a hot and uncomfortable place that the spirit would be keen to leave. (Note that this heat — cold paradigm applies especially to mashave. Whenever they possess a medium their first request is for cold water or beer because the place of their origin is scorching hot) (Gundani, 1995: 11).103 However, Holleman‘s research findings do not support Gundani‘s assertion that ‗cooling‘ of the spirit has something to do with heat. In his own words: The term kutonhodza is also used in other ritual actions in which there is a question of a spiritual tension. .... As far as I understand, the need for a cooling agent is only felt in situations directly associated with midzimu (ancestral spirits) or Mwari (‗God‘). .... Logically speaking, the need for cooling agents would presuppose the existence of a mystical element of ‗heat‘ in the situations outlined above. On this point, however, my enquiries remained inconclusive. All my informants, while stressing the need for ‗cooling off‘ in bona and other rituals, refused to subscribe to the supposition that there should therefore be ‗heat‘ to be ‗cooled‘. They were puzzled when this suggestion was put to them, but stood their ground. They went so far as to say (with reference to homicide cases) that the cooling action countered the threat of spiritual ‗anger‘, but were not prepared to associate anger with heat. Their final answer- ‗there

F. Holleman, Accommodating the Spirit Among some North-Eastern Shona tribes (1953), 37-40; Edwards, "From Birth to Death: Notes on the Natives of the Mrewa District, Southern Rhodesia,‖ 40. 100 M. Bourdillon, The Shona Peoples (1975), 235-237. 101 Bourdillon, The Shona Peoples, 237. 102 Bourdillon, The Shona Peoples, 238. 103 P. Gundani, "Rituals surrounding death among the Shona peoples," Mukai (1995), 11.


is nothing (in these situations) that can be considered warm or hot; we cool off (the grave, etc.) because this is the way we have always been doing it according to our custom‘-left the whole concept of kutonhodza strangely incomplete.104 Apart from having the idea of water as a cooling agent, the Shona look at water from another perspective. Water, in Shona culture, is primarily life giving. Expiating on this concept, Aschwanden observed that, "Water is regarded as the "origin" and spring of life ... Water, therefore, is closely connected with life, birth and procreation".105 Thus, the burial of children in wet ground is also connected with life since water symbolises the amniotic fluid of the mother's womb. The pouring of beer (water) on the grave of the deceased is meant to have the same effect.106 Since the water lilies and the river-grass get nourishment and life from the water in which they live, so the people wish their deceased relative a happy existence in the land of the ancestors. So the act of putting water-lilies into the grave is a life giving process for the 'west' is devoid of peace, happiness and, therefore, real life. According to Edwards, among the Zezuru, the body was buried with the head to the north, facing the setting sun.107 Bullock confirms this northern direction but says that the body was laid facing the north, the direction of tribal origin.108 In his analysis of the VaShangwe ceremonies in the Gokwe area, Powell said that the head was laid pointing towards the west.109 Regarding the geographical direction 'west', this concept is very important indeed. The 'west' to the Africans is the locus of death and the place where everything evil takes place. It is also the habitat of the ancestors and all those who have gone before. It seems to me that Africans somehow connect life with the sun. Among the Shona, birth and death are connected with the position of the sun. In Africa where the sun sets is where life sets. As Powell wrote: ―The only reason that can be given for us is that the dead should follow the sun, it has been handed down by tradition and no departure from this practice would be tolerated‖.110 b. Throwing dust A Shona burial ceremony today cannot be completed without the ritual of throwing dust into the grave. According to my own research, the traditional Shona burial ceremony does not have the act of throwing dust into the grave (kukanda ivhu). This is a novelty.111 Among the Shona it was seen as a sign of disrespect of the dead to lay the corpse directly on the ground or to throw soil on it. The deceased was not supposed to come in contact with the ground. Doing this was absolutely deplorable. That is why some people put a sleeping mat under the coffin and flat stones on top of it before covering the grave with soil.112 The Budja and the Korekore, scoop out a small cave or niche at one side of the grave and, after the body has been placed in it, stones are arranged to close the cave. The Shona have different reasons for
104 105

Holleman, Accommodating the Spirit Among some North-Eastern Shona tribes, 38. H. Aschwanden, Karanga Mythology. (1989), 193-194. 106 Gundani, "Rituals surrounding death among the Shona peoples," 11. 107 Edwards, "From Birth to Death: Notes on the Natives of the Mrewa District, Southern Rhodesia,‖ 36. 108 Bullock, The MaShona, 268. 109 Powell, ―Notes on the ―Kutaya,‖ ―KuKomba‖ and ―Kugara Nhaka‖ Ceremonies of the VaShankwe,‖ 14. 110 H. Kuper, "The Shona", in The Shona and Ndebele of Southern Rhodesia. (1955), 36. 111 B. S. Muchemwa, ―Kukanda Ivhu: The significance of ―dust‖ in a Christian Burial,‖ Crossroads (2001), 22. 112 Muchemwa, ―Kukanda Ivhu: The significance of ―dust‖ in a Christian Burial,‖ 22.


carrying out this ritual of throwing dust. Some say it is the final greeting to the dead person, others do it to cast away evil and misfortune (kurasa rushanga) and others do it to show that they have nothing to do with the death of the deceased.113 Others say the bereaved may fall ill if they neglect the custom. At one funeral a certain man said that, ―One feels weak after the death of a relative and this is remedied by pouring soil into the grave‖. Some people did not attach any mystical efficacy to the act when asked about it. They thought that it was just an expression of love for the deceased. If one did not throw soil into the grave it would appear as if one did not care and was not touched by the death of a relative. The importance of this ritual is illustrated by the fact that relatives and friends of the deceased who did not attend the funeral are expected to visit the grave and perform the ritual. This is done either by throwing soil on the grave or by placing a stone on it. A member of the deceased relatives, usually a male, accompanies a person visiting the grave after the funeral. One of the reasons given is that somebody had to accompany the person ‗to show him/her the right grave‘, or s/he must have one ‗to show him/her how the body lies, in which direction the head lies because the soil or the stone must be placed on the head‘. Other people think that anyone visiting the grave after burial must be accompanied just in case ‗s/he bewitches the grave and turns the deceased against his/her relatives‘. One informant said no misfortune would result but commented that a person who has come to place a stone should not just go alone. Immediately after the ritual of throwing the dust is completed, people take turns to say a few words about the deceased. Usually these are people who claim to be very close to the deceased. There is something that is striking or interesting about the graveside speeches among the Shona today. I remember one day burying a prominent member of a certain parish in Chitungwiza, about 20 kilometres outside Harare. At the grave about ten short speeches were made about the deceased. After sometime I realised that none of the speakers (vatauri) was saying anything at all except trite platitudes on the general occasion of a person‘s death. I reflected that if the name of the deceased were left out of the speeches, they would be perfectly well suited to a similar occasion with another name: (1) Rufu rwake rwauya tisingafungire (His/her death came unexpectedly); (2) Tarasikirwa zvikuru nemunhu watainzwanana naye zvakanyanya (We have been robbed of a person with whom we had good relations); (3) Hatina kumbonzwa kuti atukana nemunhu (S/he never had problems with anyone); (4) Aida munhu wose (S/he loved everybody); (5) Vanga raasiya richanetsa kuzadzikisa (The void s/he left will be difficult to fill); (6) Nhingi famba zvakanaka (N. go in peace). I was left with no idea whatever of what those ten people or so thought of the dead man. No one was prepared to break the ‗formula‘ and talk about personal intimacy. In some areas, women are dismissed just before the grave is filled with soil. The reason for this dismissal is that there could be a witch among the women present at the funeral. As the grave is being filled up, they may take some of the soil of the grave with them. With this soil they might bewitch the grave and turn the deceased against his/her relatives. They may also take the spirit of the dead away with them and do what they like with it. After the body has been laid in the grave according to traditional custom, the grave is then sealed with

Edwards, "From Birth to Death: Notes on the Natives of the Mrewa District, Southern Rhodesia,‖ 36.


stonewall and then filled with soil. However, no soil should fall directly on top of the body. It is seen as lack of respect to do so. The soil should go on top of the stone instead.114 When the grave has been filled up a there is prayer that is said before the people leave the place. In some areas, the father of the deceased would take a calabash with mealie-meal or millet meal mixed with water, places it near the headstone, kneeling down, he would address the ancestors saying: ―Keep the child that has come to you‖. After this prayer the contents of the calabash are poured over the headstone and the calabash itself is destroyed and placed on top of the mound. After the whole ceremony some branches of trees like mukarati or munhondo (burkea africana), chizhuzhu or musosawafa (gymnosporoia senegalensis) or mutarara (gardenia spatulifolia) are placed on the grave.115 The grave and the whole place is swept, so that footprints will be visible should a witch come to 'steal' the spirit of the deceased. 2.5 RITUAL PURIFICATION

Today, it is obligatory for mourners to wash their hands and feet at the deceased's home. Death, to a traditional African, is a dangerous and infectious thing. It contaminates everything and everyone. Africans believe that touching a corpse or just being close to it causes defilement that renders one impure. The impurities have to be ritually washed away using water mixed with herbs.116 In the old days, everyone who had been at the funeral would go down to the river and bath there to wash their association with death. Again, the men who had actually handled the corpse and the widow/er who had been intimately connected with the deceased were required to undergo a special purification ceremony. As I said above, any object that is used by the deceased has to be destroyed or purified because what brought misfortune to the deceased will bring the same calamity to those who use the same objects. Therefore, the hut and everything in it have to be purified of death by sprinkling water mixed with herbs or sometimes by smearing the floor with cow dung.117 A few years ago at one funeral of a prominent Catholic in one township in Harare I saw mourners performing this washing ritual soon after the person had been buried. In trying to find out what significance Christians attach to this custom I was struck by the diversity of the interpretations. Several people emphasized that the washing is a customary act, ―itsika yedu (it is our custom)‖. One informant said they were ‗washing off death‘, but agreed with others that this did not mean they were trying to ward off misfortune, ‗because death is not bad luck, it comes from God‘. One said they were washing off the dust, another said that the purpose was to show that ‗we have finished‘. A man who did not give the impression of being devout or sophisticated said without hesitation that it had the same purpose as Pilate‘s washing of hands at the trial of Jesus: ―It is to say that we are not guilty of this person‘s death‖. There are some Christians who interpret the act as washing off something dangerous. A woman who belonged to the guild of Mary, the Queen of Heaven (Chita chaMariya Hosi yeDenga), regarded it as ―washing off the dirt of death, since one has greeted a dead person‖.
114 115

Powell, ―Notes on the ―Kutaya,‖ ―KuKomba‖ and ―Kugara Nhaka‖ Ceremonies of the VaShankwe,‖ 8. Bullock, The MaShona, 268. 116 Kumbirai, Shona beliefs of the Dead (1964), 12-13; 117 Powell, ―Notes on Burial Customs in the Bushu Reserve,‖ 8-9.


She believed death could result if it was neglected. Another man said it was ―the washing away of disease which caused the person‘s death. If someone neglects it, it is believed s/he will be the next victim‖. Another man who was a close relative of the deceased said: ―The meaning behind it is to wash away illness which you might have contracted when throwing earth into the grave. This is not really illness but misfortune‖. There are some who follow the custom without attaching any particular significance to it, or without knowing what the purpose is supposed to be. Ko vafi vanoenda kupi (Where do the dead go)? Today beliefs concerning the fate of the dead vary considerably. What I have realised in my research is that the majority of the young do not know what is meant by midzimu (ancestral spirits), and some elders also are unable to explain it clearly. Professing Christians have accepted the Church doctrine of immortality. Some of them told me that when a person dies his/her soul (mweya), according to his/her behaviour on earth, goes either to heaven or to hell. Heaven is a place where the soul lives in eternal peace and happiness, and hell is a place where the soul will burn forever, they say. Despite the proliferation of churches in Zimbabwe I was surprised to discover that the idea of resurrection has made little impact on some people, including Christians themselves. I remember one man, a Christian for that matter, being openly sceptical and pointing to me that no one has yet seen a person rising from the dead. Some traditionalists, those who do not accept the Christian faith, retain the old belief that the soul goes underground to the world of the dead, but do not know what happens there. Others maintain that it is simply blown away by the wind, so that when a person dies s/he is annihilated, just like an animal. Most of them are familiar with the Christian teaching, but scoff at it, particularly at the doctrine of the resurrection. ―Then also‖, said my informant, ―they tell us that the soul of a dead person goes to Heaven. But who has ever seen it going there? And why is it that only people go to Heaven, and not cattle? What then happens to cattle? For they also die?‖ Both Christians and traditionalists speak freely of chipoko (‗ghosts‘, from the Afrikaans ‗spook‘). They say that if a person, after death, regrets the cattle and other wealth s/he left behind, s/he will haunt the places s/he frequented while alive. His/her soul rests in the grave by day, but emerges at night and wanders about seeking its lost treasure. However, both the traditional and Christian beliefs encourage people to hope that they will meet again the relatives and friends of whom death has deprived them. To some this may afford some consolation, but others do not have much faith in it. ―If God really listens to our prayers‖, they say, referring to the doctrine of resurrection, ―why can‘t he send back the dead person for whom we are longing, so that we can talk to him, if only once, and then he can go back again‖. This statement, and many others like it that were made to me, shows that sometimes at least there is genuine sorrow at the loss of some one beloved. Then the mourning ceremonies are more than a mere formality, but provide a recognised channel for the expression of true grief. CONCLUSION In this chapter I have tried to give a general description of what takes place when a person dies in a Shona community. It is not possible within the limitations of this essay to elaborate detailed obsequies celebrated at a Shona funeral. I have tried to draw attention to the main 37

events, important 'actors', symbolism and symbolic activity. I did not describe any individual's actual burial ceremony but tried to give the main features of a Shona funeral. Among the Shona people the funeral ceremony is the most elaborate of all the ceremonies. It is extremely important in that the deceased is believed to begin his/her journey to the ancestors. Shona funeral rituals are symbolic preparations for the deceased to enter the spirit-world. The Shona believe that without this last rite the dead remains at halfway between this world and the hereafter. Thus, it is very important for the community and its welfare that the deceased is properly treated. However, it is not sufficient to procure the happy separation of the deceased, the chaos cause by death must be put to an end. After burial the community must be reconstituted since death to a Shona affects the community as whole. Therefore, the overall aim of the funeral ceremony is to restore the family to its former state of well-being and allow its continuance. This appears to take place throughout the ceremonies.


The Church and Inculturation in Zimbabwe

INTRODUCTION Many changes have taken place in the Church in Africa in recent years. Due to the wind of change brought about by Vatican II, the Church in Africa has seen many traditional rituals being christianised or baptised, thus, infusing the Church with real African blood. The 1969 38

Order for Burial in Shona is a typical example of one of these liturgical innovations in Africa. I shall begin this chapter by looking at the Church‘s attitude towards African traditional religions. I shall then examine the development of the Order for Burial in Shona and highlight some of its important features. 3.1 THE CHURCH AND LOCAL CULTURES

It is not true that the Catholic Church has always been negative towards religions and cultures of local peoples. In the history of the Church there were some encyclicals that were written in favour of adapting the gospel to the culture of peoples in mission lands. Let us peruse some of them and see what they say about the respect for other peoples‘ cultures. Around the 7th century B.C., Pope Gregory the Great (590-602 A.D.) wrote a letter to Mellitus (died 624 A.D.) who was a companion of Augustine of Canterbury (597-604 A.D.), outlining the principles that were to be applied in their mission among the English. He asked Augustine not to ―destroy the temples of the gods, but rather the idols within the temples‖.118 In this way, Gregory was trying to link the ancient religions of the English people and the Christian faith. Most probably he thought that if the English were allowed to keep their places of worship, they would then accept the Christian rituals that will be celebrated in them. In 1939, Pope Pius XII (1939-1958 A.D.) in the encyclical Summi Pontificatus demonstrated his positive approach to local culture. He said that the principle of adaptation must pervade the entire activity of the Church in mission lands. He based his doctrine on the unity of the human race, and the equality of all human beings. It was thus the duty of the Church to assume such cultural patrimony into the new churches. As he says: The Church of Christ...cannot and does not think of depreciating or disdaining the peculiar characteristics which each people, with jealous and understandable pride, cherishes and retains as a precious heritage. (Therefore) all that, in such usages and customs, is not inseparably bound up with religious errors will always be the object of sympathetic consideration, and whenever possible, will be preserved and developed....119 In the same encyclical he expressed the thought that the Catholic inhabitants of mission lands are first of all citizens of the Kingdom of God but do not cease to be citizens of their homeland: The Church of Christ, the faithful depository of the teaching of Divine Wisdom, cannot and does not think of deprecating or disdaining the particular characteristics which each people, with jealous and intelligible pride, cherishes and retains as a precious heritage. Her aim is a supernatural union in all-embracing love, deeply felt and practiced, and not the unity which is exclusively external and superficial and by that very fact weak.120

118 119

J. Neuner, & J. Duplus, The Christian Faith (1986), 304. Quoted by Neuner, & Duplus, The Christian Faith, 315. 120 Quoted by J. McCoy, A. Advice from the Field: Towards a New Missiology (1962), 35.


Again, in addressing the Directors of Pontifical Mission Works in 1944, he made the same point when he said: The herald of the Gospel and messenger of Christ is an apostle. His office does not demand that he transplant European civilisation and culture, and no other, to foreign soil for it to take root there and propagate itself. His task in dealing with these peoples, who sometimes boast of a very old and highly developed culture of their own, is to teach and form them so that they are ready to accept willingly and in a practical manner the principles of Christian life and morality. 121 In 1951, in the encyclical Evangelii Praecones, he explicitly expresses his idea on the need to promote the local culture as a missionary principle: The Church from the beginning down to our own time has always followed this wise practice: let not the Gospel, on being introduced into any new land, destroy or extinguish whatever its people possess that is naturally good, just and beautiful. For the Church, when she calls people to a higher culture and a better way of life under the inspiration of the Christian religion, does not act like one who recklessly cuts down and uproots a thriving forest.122 The question of missionary accommodation or adaptation seems to have occupied the pontificate of Pius XII. In his letter to Cardinal Piazza who was presiding over a meeting of Latin-American bishops in 1955, he wrote: ―All Catholic priests who truly answer their vocation feel themselves native sons wherever they work‖.123 This thought found expression during his life. Speaking to missionaries, he called the mission country in which they work a ―second fatherland, to which they have given their hearts‖,124 and in another place ―the wellbeloved country, the fatherland of their choice‖.125 The first official document to mention the religious traditions of African peoples, and in a positive light for that matter is the encyclical of Pope Paul VI (1963-1978 A.D.) Africae Terrarum of 1967.126 Paul VI corrects the earlier misrepresentations of African traditional religion as animistic. In his view, African traditional religious expressions have a ―‗spiritual view of life‘ since they consider all living beings as linked to the world of spirits. Consequently, he calls for an exchange of meaning between Christianity and African religious traditions.127 However, in my opinion, the turning point on the Church‘s attitude towards African religious tradition was Paul VI‘s address on 31st July 1969 to the African bishops at the closing of the 1st Plenary Assembly of SECAM in Rubaga Cathedral, Uganda. He said: An adaptation of the Christian life in the fields of pastoral, ritual, didactic and spiritual activities is not only possible, it‘s even favoured by the Church. The liturgical renewal is a living example of this. And in this sense you may, and you must, have an African
121 122

McCoy, A. Advice from the Field: Towards a New Missiology, 35. R. Hickey, Modern Missionary Documents and Africa by Popes and Roman Synods (1982), 97. 123 McCoy, A. Advice from the Field: Towards a New Missiology, 34. 124 McCoy, A. Advice from the Field: Towards a New Missiology, 34. 125 McCoy, A. Advice from the Field: Towards a New Missiology, 34. 126 Hickey, Modern Missionary Documents and Africa by Popes and Roman Synods, 173. 127 Hickey, Modern Missionary Documents and Africa by Popes and Roman Synods, 173.


Christianity. Indeed, you possess human values and characteristic forms of culture which can rise up to perfection such as to find in Christianity, and for Christianity, a true superior fullness, and prove to be capable of a richness of expression all its own, and genuinely African‖.128 Then in 1969, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (now known as the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples) wrote a letter to Vicars Apostolic of Indochina stressing the need not to ask the indigenous peoples to change their traditional customs as long as they do not contradict the faith.129 Apart from the papal encyclicals and letters many missiologists and anthropologists were of the opinion that the missionaries should understand and appreciate local customs. W. C. Willoughby said that it is imperative for missionaries to study African religions: … teachers of a new scheme of faith must be familiar with the traditional forms in which the religious feeling of their pupils has hitherto embodied itself. To cut a man completely away from the heritage that his ancestors left him, the mental and spiritual environment of his earlier years, would be to sever him from all that he has hitherto held sacred. Such an operation would probably involve the irreparable damage of cutting the nerve of reverence. … Missionaries must meet the African where he is if they wish to lead him up to where he ought to be. We cannot teach him to fill out his old forms with a fuller meaning, not show him a more excellent way of expressing or of satisfying his aspirations, until we so master his forms and expressions as to become sure of the nature of his cravings and discontent.130 To Edwin Smith the doctrine of the Incarnation does not require an African to become a European before Christ can dwell in him/her. He made an allusion to the numerous examples in the history of Europe of how the Church adopted pre-Christian rites and customs as means for spreading the faith, and wondered why the same could not be done in Africa: If in teaching the Africans, we demand that they shall surrender all that they hitherto cherished, we are asking them to do what we Europeans have never done. For Christianity – it is an amalgamation of elements drawn from many sources. … as Christianity adopted the vocabulary of paganism and spiritualised it, so in consecrating them it also transformed many pagan institutions. If then we insist upon the African taking our institutional Christianity as it stands, and surrendering all his past, what we are requiring of him is that, in addition to the pure essence of our religion he should take over what it has absorbed from its European environment.131 What we have to take note of here is the fact that, though the popes and missiologists seem to favour adaptation, theory and practice did not always tally in missionary endeavours. Very few missionaries were enthusiastic in applying the views expressed by these popes and


Paul VI. ―Address to the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, Kampala (31 July 1969)‖ AAS (September 1969), 577. 129 Neuner, & Duplus, The Christian Faith, 309. 130 C. Willoughby, The Soul of the Bantu (1928), xix. 131 E. Smith, The Golden Stool (1926), 262.


experts in the mission territories. As Raymond Hickey said, those in the field did not always accept the Church‘s attitude of respecting other people‘s cultures and traditions.132 Various reasons have been given for this negative missionary attitude toward cultures of people in mission lands. The missionary Bishop, Joseph Blomijous, attributed this to ethnocentrism. He said that it is a human problem to regard one‘s culture as the best. 133 The missionaries, coming from a rather civilized society, had no option but to condemn the primitive African society, he wrote.134 Bernard Lonegarn thinks that the Church‘s evangelisation was always characterized by cultural domination. He said that not all Church documents viewed African religions positively because there were some papal documents that encouraged what he calls ―classist mentality‖.135 John Baur reckons that the missionaries cannot be blamed for being intolerant because the Church‘s statements were meant for the missionaries ―…who went to the Asiatic peoples which had highly developed and respected civilisations and religions. The primal cultures and religions of Africa were not considered in that bracket by the Roman mind‖.136 Adrian Hastings thinks that the missionaries acted not out of malice but out of ignorance of the customs of the indigenous peoples. He says: But the tendency to condemn African things in toto came not only from actual observation, but even more from ignorance on the part of the foreigners. African societies are so different from anything he was hitherto acquainted with that without some special training in interpretation, the missionary found himself clueless and revolted. A special training in anthropology, in the study of such societies, was what the missionary needed and this does desperately need, but what he did not, and still, for the most part, does not receive.137 This reminds me of discussions I had with some missionaries in the Netherlands where I was studying for two years. During my furlough I met missionaries who had worked overseas in countries like Indonesia and Suriname. One priest who worked in Suriname for more that 20 years told me that for about ten years he never went inside a family dwelling, and admitted that he had no interest in local customs. His initial attitude was shaped by ignorance and indifference. But after spending some time in the Netherlands doing some studies on missiology he went back with a completely different attitude, determined to learn as much as he could about the people and to identify with them as much as possible. A religious sister in Zimbabwe, in response to a question about her knowledge of the customs of the Shona people among whom she had worked for more than thirty years, replied that since her congregation had local sisters it was not necessary for the foreign sisters to know anything about the culture of the people. Interestingly, a sister but of another congregation, gave the same answer.138

132 133

Hickey, Modern Missionary Documents and Africa by Popes and Roman Synods, 143. W. Buhlmann, The Missions on Trial (1979), 75. 134 Buhlmann, The Missions on Trial, 75. 135 B. Lonegarn, Method in Theology (1972), 123-124, 300-302. 136 J. Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa (1994), 66. 137 A. Hastings, Church & Mission in Modern Africa (1967), 61. 138 The research was done in early 1996 in preparation for my dissertation for my first degree at the University of Zimbabwe.


Another reason put forward to justify the missionaries‘ attitude is that the missionaries were following the theology of 19th century European Christianity.139 The dominant belief was the view that church membership was necessary for salvation, extra ecclesiam nulla salus (Outside the church, no salvation).140 As a result of this belief, the missionaries were concerned with baptising as many people as possible, even without proper instruction. Again, there was the patristic theology that the world was divided into two kingdoms, that is, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.141 Consequently, the missionaries‘ encounter with African religious practices was seen as the fight against the devil. African traditional sacrifices were adoration of Satan; hence they must be fought as Satan himself. They rejected the traditional items and replaced them with devotional objects like the rosary, medals and holy water. Another belief was that Africans were tabula rasa (clean slate)142. Some missionaries thought that Africans had no religion and that their hearts were blank. As Baur wrote: ―This tabula rasa concept added with the conviction of the uniqueness of their faith, led the missions to implant the faith in the way they knew and lived it themselves, without adaptations…‖143 It is unfortunate that the missionaries of the 19th century were not familiar with the following text of St. Augustine: For as the Egyptians not only had idols and heavy obligations which the people of Israel detested and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver and clothing, which they, leaving Egypt, took for themselves secretly, as for a better use, not on their own authority but by precept and command, the Egyptians, unknowingly, furnished these things for good use, so the teachings of all pagans contain not only falsehoods, superstitions and heavy obligations which each of us, departing from the society of paganism under the leadership of Christ should abominate and avoid, but also they contain liberal disciplines of which we treated already, more suitable to the service of truth and some moral precepts of great use. There are also found among them some truths concerning the worship of the one true God. … these ought to be taken from them by the Christian, once he has separated himself from them in mind, and put to the just use of preaching the Gospel. (emphasis mine).144 In line with what St. Augustine wrote Smith Robertson warned the missionaries: No positive religion that has moved men has been able to start with a tabula rasa, and express itself as if religion were beginning for the first time; if not in substance, the new system must be in contact all along the line with the older ideas and practices which it finds in possession. A new scheme of faith can find a hearing only by appealing to religious instincts and susceptibilities that already exist in its audience, and it cannot reach these without taking account of the traditional forms in which all religious feeling is embodied, and without speaking a language which men accustomed to these old forms can understand.145

139 140

Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 66. Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 66. 141 Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 66. 142 Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 94. 143 Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 94. 144 McCoy, A. Advice from the Field: Towards a New Missiology, 35. 145 S. Robertson, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (1926), 2.




In the preceding section, we mentioned that officially the Catholic Church has always maintained a positive attitude towards the religious traditions of other people. She encouraged the missionaries to learn local languages and respect local customs. A quick glance at the history of the Catholic Church in Mashonaland shows that the missionaries were not very keen to implement the Church directives with regard to African traditional religion. In the early days of the missionary period she developed under the influence of a colossal western cultural arrogance. Through the instrumentality of the Jesuit missionaries, to be precise, through the efforts of Andrew Hartmann, Peter Prestage and others, the number of people offering themselves for baptisms rose considerably from 474 in July 1897 to 250, 000 in 1960.146 However, the acceptance of the new faith was not easy for the Shona. Practically, it meant a profound revolution in their lives, beliefs and customs. At this stage, authentic Christianity was understood as getting rid of everything that was linked to their lives before the coming of Christianity.147 A genuine convert viewed his/her culture as an undesirable and un-Christian superstition that should not only be discouraged but also destroyed. The method of evangelisation was designed in such a way as to ensure that the new convert was isolated from his/her corruptive cultural surroundings and indoctrinated in the new culture that was regarded as genuine Christianity. As W.R. Peaden wrote: ―The missionaries preached, believing that the people had no God or at most a very hazy and erroneous idea about Him. They thought that the people were living in virtual darkness and that it was their duty to bring the light of the Gospel to them‖.148 In Rhodesia two methods were adopted to ensure the above: the establishment of schools and the construction of ‗Christian villages‘.149 ―To the early communities, church and school were identical and one could not be conceived of without the other‖. 150 ―Missionaries said quite frankly that schools would assist converts on developing the culture change considered necessary for the Christian life in a way which was not possible otherwise‖. 151 ―Some missionaries also considered that education would produce a necessary change from a social morality based on tribal custom to one based on Christian faith‖. 152 The method of Christian villages was popularised by the Jesuits in the 17th and 18th century among the Indios of Paraguay.153 It was called reductions because it was meant to ‗reduce‘ the Indios to a deeper understanding of the faith.154 Apart from protecting the newly converted from a pagan environment and practices, the other objective of this method was to bring religion and civilisation to the Shona. The villages were meant to be centres of civilisation. The

Editor, ―Current Catholic Events in Rhodesia,‖ ZMR (May 1898), 7; W. Rea, Missionary Endeavour in Southern Rhodesia (1962), 12. 147 W. Peaden, Missionary Attitudes To Shona Culture (1970), 6-7. 148 Peaden, Missionary Attitudes To Shona Culture, 6. 149 Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 420. 150 Peaden, Missionary Attitudes To Shona Culture, 8. 151 Peaden, Missionary Attitudes To Shona Culture, 9. 152 Peaden, Missionary Attitudes To Shona Culture, 11. 153 Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 230. 154 The policy of Christian villages was vigorously promoted by the French Jesuit John Baptist Loubiere of the Portuguese Province who had seen the policy being implemented in Mozambique (A. Dachs, & W. Rea, The Catholic Church and Zimbabwe 1879 – 1979 (1979), 79-80.


missionaries were convinced that one great contribution to African civilisation was the ethos of work that was fostered by village life.155 In a paper read at the Conference of Catholic Missionaries held in Bulawayo in 1920, John Baptist Loubiere wrote: … it seems to me evident that our own experience here in Africa would lead us forcibly to the same conclusion, i.e., that the formation of Christian villages is essential to the spiritual welfare of our converts. The pagan atmosphere is so thoroughly corrupt that laymen themselves come to the conclusion that we must take our Christian out of it.156 In the Zambezi Mission, as the territory between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers was known in the ecclesiastical circles, this concept of Christian villages was boosted by the vast tracks of land offered by Rhodes and the missionary motto labora et ora (to work is to pray).157 The missionaries thought that by improving the living standards of the local people they could make them more susceptible to Christianity. The success of this was seen at Kutama, Chishawasha, Empandeni, Driefontein, St Joseph‘s Hama and Triashill missions.158 However, with the passage of time the missionaries realised that this was the wrong way of evangelisation because: …the Christianity offered to the Shona was not accepted universally as an unmixed blessing. Some of those who stood outside it and looked on at its aims and effects on the people, considered that it was harmful both to the culture and morals of the people. There is evidence also that even those who became convinced Christians and strongly attached to the tenets and doctrines of the their church, did not abandon their traditional beliefs even though they were considered false and banned by the mission authorities.159 Although one of the primary concerns of Catholic missionaries was to enlighten, as Daneel said, certain indigenous practices and integrate them into the Church, the main obstacle was that the missionaries were ignorant of the local culture.160 The missionaries, as a result, failed to identify anything that could be assimilated. Even Prestage, who attempted to penetrate into the religious beliefs of the Shona, was convinced that the, "fear of the ancestors and the attendant mystique of the spirit mediums was so strong that Christians could not build on these foundations",161 hence there was no common ground between Christianity and Shona culture. One element that might have led to the inculturation of the Catholic Church was the rise of African nationalism and the advent of the anti-colonial war of liberation (1966-1979). This was not only focused on resistance to an oppressive political system, but was applied to issues
155 156

Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 230. J. Loubiere, ―Christian Villages,‖ ZMR (1918-1921): 370. 157 Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, 420. 158 Peaden, Missionary Attitudes To Shona Culture, 19-20. However, the policy of Christian Villages was unsuccessful at Gokomere and St Michael‘s Mhondoro. Dachs, & Rea, The Catholic Church and Zimbabwe 1879 – 1979, 82. 159 Peaden, Missionary Attitudes To Shona Culture, 19-20. 160 M. Daneel, Old and New in Southern Shona Independent Churches I (1971), 247. 161 L. Gann, History of Southern Rhodesia - Early days to 1934 (1965), 206.


of religious change in a colonial setting. For the first time African Catholics began to express their views and aspirations to each other and to whites in the public forum. Taking advantage of the greater cultural freedom allowed during and after Vatican II, African Catholics in Rhodesia sought to find a spiritual home within the Church by incorporating the hidden transcript of African values and symbols to make it their own. Thus, there was a demand for a detailed policy on traditional customs, especially funeral rituals.162 Far from condoning traditional practices, the Catholic priests initially condemned them. But subsequently, as Dachs and Rea said: Accordingly later missionaries came to recognise that the Christian burial rites must be incomplete and inadequate if their African Christians still insisted on a separate ceremony to propitiate the ancestors and to integrate the deceased into the whole African family. And African priests brought new light on an understanding of the ceremonies themselves….163 Slowly the Catholic disapproval of the traditional funeral rituals slowly changed to a more flexible approach and this paved way for 'experiments' aimed at incorporating 'christianised' Shona rituals in the liturgy of the Church. The main interest was directed at the African's concern with the ancestors during burial. In September 1966, the Rhodesian Catholic Bishops' Conference succumbed to pressure and appointed a commission to look into the possibility of Christianising the Shona traditional burial.164 Joseph Kumbirai, a priest and one of the leading proponents of indigenisation of the Catholic liturgy and who had already formulated a Shona burial rite, was one of the members of this committee. Kumbirai, who claimed to have been influenced by the theology of Hans Kung, was interested in finding out what was adaptable to Christianity in the traditional rites. To him: In Africa we have to face the problem of either building a liturgy almost from the ground up or of transplanting a European liturgical structure and then start chopping off and adding and patching up until we end with something neither African nor European. The solution rests in a new liturgy, one which will be typically African. The proposed burial rite is in a Shona cast, based on customs and traditions of the Shona….165 However, by the time the Committee was appointed Kumbirai had already started to use his proposed draft of new burial rite and it met with positive responses. This draft was presented to the Inter-diocesan liturgical committee for vetting and it was approved on 28 September 1966. Kumbirai's proposed new burial rite was officially accepted by the Bishops' Conference in 1966 to be used ad experimentum.


H. Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual in the Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe", Theology Cooked in an African Pot, ATISCA BULLETIN, 5/6, (1996/1997), 82. 163 Dachs, & Rea, The Catholic Church and Zimbabwe 1879 – 1979, 224-225. 164 Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual in the Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe", 83. 165 Quoted by Dachs, & Rea, The Catholic Church and Zimbabwe 1879 – 1979, 225.




When a person is dead, the faithful go to the home of the deceased to pray for the soul of the departed and to console the bereaved. They spend their time singing, praying and reading appropriate chapters of the Bible. The priest, the leader or the catechist goes to pray for the departed. The priest is normally accompanied by servers carrying the cross, holy water and incense. i. Prayer to the ancestors P. To you all ancestors who are with God. We are gathered here to present to you your child N. we ask you to accompany him/her on his/her journey. Receive him/her in God‘s kingdom so that s/he will have the capacity to shield others from the misfortunes of the world and to intercede on their behalf. May you lead him/her to the joys and happiness of the righteous, where s/he will live forever more. C. Amen.167 If the deceased is not being buried the same day incensing and sprinkling the body with holy water follow this prayer. If burial is taking place the same day the body is taken out of the house/hut for another prayer (if there is no Eucharist service) or is taken directly to the church for the Eucharist service. ii. Prayer to God After the communion the priest, standing near the coffin, says the following prayer. If the funeral service is taking place at the home of the deceased the coffin is put down outside the house/hut when the leader/catechist says this prayer. P. My dear brothers and sisters, we are gathered here to pray for the repose of N. who has departed from us. Let us pray for him/her wholeheartedly so that God, in His mercy will receive him/her into his Kingdom. P. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. C. Amen P. Praise be the Lord C. For ever and ever P. Lord, hear our prayers C. Let our prayers reach you. P. Let us pray: God of Heaven and Earth, father of mercy, we your children have gathered here to accompany and bring your child to you. You have called him/her from this life. Let there be no other place for him/her except with you. Receive him/her, you are his/her owner. Forgive him/her all his/her sins and lead him/her into your place of happiness and joy. Have mercy on him /her and do not judge and punish him/her harshly. Lord, if you judge us according to our faults who can survive? If you, O Lord, should keep a record of our sins, our cry would not reach you, our tears would not touch you. Our eyes are full of tears but your heart is full of mercy. Therefore, lead your child into the happiness of your home where s/he will be happy with all the saints, his/her forefathers, grandfathers and

166 167

ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial) 1967 [1989]. Translated from Shona by the author. ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 31


grandmothers and his/her relatives. Christ our Lord, present our petition to God the Father. C. Amen.168 iii. Prayer of accompanying the deceased P. Lord, have mercy C. Lord, have mercy P. Christ, have mercy C. Christ, have mercy P. Lord, have mercy C. Lord, have mercy P. Give them eternal rest, O Lord C. And may perpetual light shine upon them. P. May s/he rest in peace C. Amen P. Holy Mary, here is your child N C. Accompany him/her to God P. You, his/her saint and you, his/her guardian angel, there is the person who belongs to you. C. Accompany him/her to God. P. All you, angels and saints, this is your relative C. Accompany him/her to God P. You, of his/her father's lineage who are dead and are with God, here is your child. C. Accompany him/her to God P. You, his/her fathers and all his/her forefathers and all of his/her father's lineage who are dead and are in heaven, here is your child C. Accompany him/her to God P. You, of his/her mother's lineage who are dead and are with God, here is your child C. Accompany him/her to God P. You, his/her maternal uncles and his/her maternal grandmothers and all of his/her mother's lineage who are dead and are in heaven, here is your child C. Accompany him/her to God P. You, all his/her relatives and all his/her friends who are dead, here is your relative C. Accompany him/her to God. P. Let us pray: Our Lord Jesus Christ, you taught us saying; "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it shall be opened to you". We ask your Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, to forgive N. all his/her sins and open up the way to heaven where s/he can enter and join in the joys of the angels, saints and all his/her relatives who went before him/her. Present our petition to God the Father. C. Amen.169 iv. De profundis P. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.
168 169

ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 7 ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 7-8.


C. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy P. If you O Lord should keep a record of our sins, O Lord who would survive? C. But with you there is forgiveness; and I look forward to the salvation you promised us. P. Your word, O Lord gives me hope and strength C. I long for you, from morning till evening P. O Lord, you are merciful and you always redeem us. C. You redeem us from our sins. P. Give them eternal rest, O Lord C. And may perpetual light shine upon them. P. Let us pray: O Lord, you are the Creator of all people and also save them; kindly listen to our pleas. Forgive your child N. his/her transgressions. Your Son Jesus Christ suffered for us in Getsemane, he was scourged and died on the cross so that N. could have eternal life. Receive him/her that s/he may live with you in your eternal kingdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ, present our petition to God our Father. C. Amen.170 v. Sprinkling the coffin with holy water P. I sprinkle you with the water of appeasement that you may be 'cooled' by the blood of Christ, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. C. Amen.171 vi. Blessing the coffin with incense P. I incense you with the smoke of heaven. Let the pleasant smell chase away all evil spirits, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. C Amen.172 vii. Procession to the grave yard/cemetery The people then proceed to the cemetery singing hymns or praying the rosary or the litany of all the saints or some other prayers for the dead. viii. At the grave The coffin is placed near the grave. If it is customary, the priest will say Mass at the grave followed by a sermon. If there is no Mass, he can read a passage from the Bible and preach on it. At the end he says: P. C. P. C. P. Give them eternal rest, O Lord And may perpetual light shine upon them May s/he rest in peace Amen. Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, you told us that you are our life, our resurrection and our way to heaven. We commend to you our relative N. for whom you died on the cross, s/he has been called by God, your Father. Lead him/her into paradise where s/he will live forever. Lead him/her out of this world of death into the world of eternal life. Let your blood that flowed on the cross, wash away all his/her sins.

170 171

ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 9. ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 10. 172 ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 10.


Your merciful heart should judge him/her kindly. Let the cross that you bore, lighten his/her punishment. May s/he escape eternal fire and all forms of punishment after death. Let him/her gain the happiness of heaven you promised those reborn by water and the Holy Spirit. C Amen.173 a. Blessing the grave P. Praise be the Lord C. Forever and ever P. Let us pray: Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth; this is the house of rest of your child N. where we are laying him/her. Let your angels guard it and protect it from his/her enemies, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. C. Amen. P. I sprinkle this home with holy water so that God sanctifies it. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. C. Amen. P. I incense it (this home) with heavenly incense that it is sanctified and protected by God, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. C. Amen.174 b. Blessing the cross The priest blesses the cross with holy water saying: P. This cross is a sign of your redemption by Jesus Christ and your resurrection on the day of the resurrection of all the people, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. C Amen.175 ix. The Burial Then the priest addressed the deceased saying: P. Enter into your house, and rest in peace until Christ raises you on the day of the resurrection of all saints. C Amen. The priest then instructs the people to lower the coffin or the body into the grave. Then he says: P. C. P. C. P. Give them eternal rest, O Lord And may perpetual light shine upon them. May s/he rest in peace Amen. Let us pray:

173 174

ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 10. ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 13. 175 ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 13.


Lord, we have escorted our relative, let him/her stay with you. S/he is now yours; we have now finished our task. Lord protect the family s/he has left behind. Protect (his/her children, nephews and nieces) his/her relatives, friends, enemies, and all of us gathered here today. You N. ask God on behalf of your family to keep hardships from them. Constantly intercede for this family of yours, so that it may be free from the troubles of this world, as well as from the things that despoil spirit and body. On their day of death, you must meet them and escort them to heaven to God, to eternal joy. C. Amen.176 The priest then takes a handful of soil and throws it into the grave, followed by family members, friends and relatives CONCLUSION There is no doubt that the inclusion of the intercessory role of the ancestors is the most innovative part in the Shona Order for Burial. As some African theologians have pointed out the ancestors' intercessory role is something that is ingrained in the African beliefs of the dead. The belief in the dead who are with Christ is close to what Mbiti referred to as "the Unknown Saints" (Mbiti, cited by Mununguri, 1998: 54). I think this is the same idea that the Shona have when they ask the ancestors to "Accompany him/her to God". God's universal will for salvation of all humankind, shown to us in Jesus‘ death, comprises Christians as well as non- Christians, the baptised as well as the unbaptised. No theologian doubts the fact that the formally canonised ―saints‖ are only a very tiny minority of those who attain final glory.


An Inculturated Shona Burial Rite

INTRODUCTION This chapter aims at proposing a new burial rite for the Shona Catholics in Zimbabwe. My thesis is that the present rite does not accommodate the essential elements of the traditional Shona ceremony. The burial rite expounded in the preceding chapter is something

ZCBC. Maitiro Okuviga Munhu (Order for Burial), 10.


commendable but the process should not end there, more should be done to come up with a more meaningful burial rite. I will start this chapter by looking at the theological and pastoral reactions to the 1969 Shona Order for Burial. I shall then analyse the rite by looking at the positive and negative elements. Lastly, I shall come up with a proposed rite that will be treated in the last section of this chapter. 4.1 CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF THE SHONA ORDER FOR BURIAL

In my view the 1969 Shona Order for Burial incorporates some of the most essential Shona beliefs like the importance of the ancestors in securing peace and tranquillity for the deceased. The whole rite seems to hinge on this aspect alone and hence its weakness. The purpose of this section is to critically examine the rite and point out some of the elements in the rite that need to be reinforced, transformed and added to make it more meaningful and enlightening to the people. a. Pastoral analysis According to Daneel the above burial rite met with "tremendous response" and positive appreciation from both the clergy and laity when it was published.177 The mediating function of the ancestors was not a problem to the Catholics because of the theology of the logos, "that those ancestors who have kept the natural law with God in heaven and can accompany the deceased relatives to Him".178 Benezet Bujo and Eugene Hillman expressed their appreciation of the above rite as successful examples and rare but 'hopeful tokens' of inculturation.179 Shorter also praised "the innovative character of the Zimbabwean funeral rite" with its "conditional innovation, and symbolic reinstatement of the deceased according to Shona custom".180 In his own words: A recent liturgical experiment is the new Christian funeral rite in Rhodesia, during which, not only are the Christian saints invoked at the graveside and bidden to welcome the departed soul into their company, but the dead man's ancestors are also invoked by name for the same purpose. The new rite met with widespread approval.181 As Shorter pointed out the most creative or innovative aspect in the Shona rite is the retention of the mediating function of the ancestors. In the rite the ancestors are invoked to intercede with God on behalf of the dead. Given the fact that the Scriptures seem to point out that Christ is the sole mediator between God and the living (including the living-dead), is there any justification of this belief? This issue has generated a thorny debate among African theologians since the 1960's. Generally speaking, African theologians agree with the traditional African belief that death ―is not the end of the story". 182 To be sure, relationships with the dead are different from relationships with the living. But there is continuity and death
177 178

Daneel, Old and New, 271. Daneel, Old and New, 271. 179 Bujo, African Theology in its Social Context, 2; E. Hillman, "An Evaluation of Inculturation," AFER (1990), 373. 180 A. Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation (1988), 263. 181 A. Shorter, African Christian Theology (1975), 127. 182 J. Taylor, The Primal Vision (1963), 165.


is another passage to the land of the ancestors. As a result relationships between the living and the dead are not dissolved by death; the tribe or clan lives on. And most importantly, to African theologians, those who are in Christ enter a fellowship that "death can neither dissolve it nor weaken it".183 What is the nature of the relationship with ancestors? Can it be described as mere honour, veneration or worship in the strict sense?184 Generally speaking, the majority of African theologians define the relationship with the ancestors in terms of the communion of saints. From the very beginning of African theology, it has been suggested by some theologians, like John Taylor, that this Christian doctrine can be revived, revised and given new prominence from within the African context. For instance, M. Lyunungu includes ancestors in his list of saints.185 Konde Ntedika says something along these lines when he wrote: But, the cult of the righteous Ancestors ought to be seen especially as a means of access to the divine... In this sense, for the African Christians, the righteous Ancestors have a special place to the extent that they are present to the life persons living on earth... thus, to invoke the righteous Ancestors, is to recover oneself; it is to gather everything that makes up his being ...186 From the case study and the theological debate one can conclude that the African ancestral beliefs can be baptised into the communion of saints without doing violence to Christian belief.187 In other words the Catholic practice of saints veneration, and their invocation as protectors can provide positive guidelines for a responsible Christian purification of traditional ancestral practices. In Zimbabwe, pastorally speaking, the same issue of the relationship between the ancestors and God is debatable. Do they ‗work together‘ or ‗go together‘? I remember asking this question in 2002 to a group of Christian leaders during a course I was conducting on Christian burial in a parish in Chitungwiza, near Harare. From the discussions I got the impression that, generally speaking, Shona Christians have vague ideas about the relationship between God and the ancestors and the manner in which they are supposed to work together. Most of the time statements about the subject were distinctly ambiguous. Is there any difference between an approach to God and the ancestors? In response to this question, several participants held that a prayer to God, even if there is no mention of the ancestors, to them implied a petition to these as well. A merely oblique reference may also be interpreted as involving the ancestors in prayers to God. One man maintained that even in church one prays to one‘s ancestors, since a phrase like ‗God of our forefathers (Mwari wemadzibaba edu)‘, although addressed to God, implied an appeal to the ancestors as well. Some said that the ancestors are the ones not mentioned but addressed by implication. ―The work of the

J. Mbiti, New Testament Eschatology in an African Background (1971), 147. Cf. E. Idowu, African Traditional Religion (1973), 180; (E. Fashole-Luke, "Veneration and Communion of saints," in New Testament Christianity for African and for the World (1974), 212; Cf G. Parrinder, African Traditional Religion (1954), 54; J. Mawinza, "Specific Difference between the Attitude toward the Ancestral Spirits and Worship of God," CRA (1969), 37-47. 185 M. Lyunungu, "Social Approach to the Ritual Activity of Man," Service (1975), 47. 186 Quoted by M. Mununguri, The Closeness of the God of the Ancestors (1998), 53-54. 187 E. Lapointe, "Africans' Ancestors Veneration and Christian Worship," Mission (1995), 216; Cf. J. Nxumalo, "Zulu Christians and Ancestor Cult," in Ancestor Religion in Southern Africa (1985), 68-70.


ancestors is connected with God because when I pray to God, they hear, and they also help. God to me is an ancestor, because when I have experienced good fortune I praise the ancestors, whereas I know it is the love of God‖. Regarding the roles of God and the ancestors, the participants tended to see the ancestors as intermediaries between the living and God, implying that they are subject to God, ‗the most senior ancestor (mudzimu mukuru)‘, but in a more favourable position to intercede with him for the living. ―The ancestors can speak to God and ask things from him. They live with God. They are always with him. They can ask things because they are nearer to God‖. ―The way to God goes through your father. You cannot go to God if you neglect your father. If the ancestors have turned their back on you, then even God will not bless you‖. This might appear to be contradicting the idea that the ancestors are indirectly addressed by implication in appeals to God, which means God can be approached through them. The paradox involved was expressed by one participant: ―You ask from God through your ancestors in this way: ‗God of our home, may the ancestors of our home help me‘… God and the ancestors work together. When I say ‗God of our home‘, I connect God with the ancestors‖. From these statements it seems the idea that God is approached through the ancestors is just a theory because in practice God is addressed directly and the ancestors only by implication. Here the two traditions have been adapted to each other. Whereas the traditional Shona would not approach the Supreme Being directly, but only through the ancestors, many Shona Christians today do not address the ancestors directly, but only bring them in by implication in prayers to God. Their intermediary role is still maintained, however, in that they are expected to intercede for their descendants by supporting their petitions to God. People never spoke about Christ in relation to the ancestors in the way they referred to God and the ancestors working together. But when I suggested the parallel to some of them they strongly endorsed the idea that the intercessory role of the ancestors was similar to that of Christ. Some thought there was no difference between Jesus and the ancestors, others said there was this difference that ‗Jesus was and still is the Son of God, and the ancestors were the sons of people like you and me‘. Another man who, in my view, seems to have a vague idea about the ancestors made this suggestion: ―The influence of the ancestors is confined to friends and relatives, whereas Jesus is the intercessor for all people‖. This suggests that the belief in Christ and belief in ancestors have significance for different contexts. On the universal level it is accepted that Christ is the great Ancestor of the Church, but on the ground level, in face-to-face situations, the belief in the ancestors of the family is prominent. b. Theological analysis In this section I would like to borrow the critical insights of Paul Gundani. 188 In the first place, the Shona Order for Burial begins with the prayer to the ancestors at the home of the deceased (Prayer to the ancestors). Here the ancestors are invoked to receive the deceased in the kingdom of God. As I have pointed in the previous chapter, Africans strongly believe that one of the ancestors‘ duties is to intercede and protect the living. To the adherence of African


Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 89-92


Traditional Religion this is acceptable.189 Again, the prayer qualified this intercessory role of the ancestors in light of the Christian belief in communion of saints. The intercessory role of the ancestors is being accorded only to ancestors ‗who are with God‘. This is a positive element indeed. This underlines the Christian belief that not every dead Christian is a saint and this also applies to the ancestors. As Kumbirai rightly said, not every ancestor is a saint.190 After observing a kupira ceremony of the Barwe people in 1928, Denys Shropshire made this interesting comment: The last word used in the prayer of the rudimentary priest is ―Wokumatenga.‖ This is not the name of an ancestor, yet curiously it appears at the end of a long list of names of ancestors. ... At first I thought it probably had reference to some ancestor whose name had long since been forgotten, but when I questioned the priest and a few others I was assured by all that it referred to the Supreme Being… If this is so, the avenue to supernatural regions is open and clear, and there is no distinct cleavage between the worship given to the ancestors and that which is due to the divine, so that from one they may the more easily be led and guided to the other-to a fuller knowledge of Wokumatenga, to a firm belief in the Pure and Transcendental deity.191 However, a closer inspection of the prayer reveals a missing element that is very important, that is, the reference to Jesus Christ.192 This makes one suspect that this is a Shona traditional prayer that was planted in a Christian rite without any adaptation to suit the Christian faith. This becomes clear when the prayer asks the ancestors to accompany, receive and lead the deceased into God‘s kingdom. According to Shona traditional belief this is palatable but it becomes a problem when it is viewed from a Christian perspective. Although the ancestors who are with God are worthy of respect, ―to attribute to the ancestors the duty to receive the deceased into the kingdom of God, within a Christian framework seems to be a down right over-rating of their status‖, argues Gundani.193 Again, Jesus‘ statement that, ―No one comes to the Father except through me‖ (John 14: 6), makes this prayer ‗unchristian‘. Further, the prayer does not make any reference to the bereaved. According to James White, consoling the bereaved is one of the functions of Christian funeral: ―The Christian funeral, then, has two functions: ministry to the living and the dead, although it is impossible to separate these‖.194 In the Shona Order for Burial, before the body leaves the funeral home or the church, there is a special prayer to God to welcome the deceased. Here the prayer for the deceased seeks God‘s mercy for any sins the dead may have committed through human weakness. Unlike the first prayer that invokes the ancestors to receive the dead in God‘s kingdom, this prayer directly implores God to receive the dead. The request is not channelled through the ancestors but through Jesus Christ. The ancestors are mentioned as part of the communion of saints.195

189 190

Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 89. Daneel, Old and New, 271. 191 Shropshire, The Church and Primitive Peoples, 76-77. 192 Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 90. 193 Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 90. 194 White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 269. 195 Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 90.


In the Shona Order for Burial, the most popular prayer is Prayer of Accompanying the deceased. It begins with the petition for Mary to accompany the deceased to God. The petition to the patron saint and the guardian angel of the deceased to perform the same role follows this. Let me dwell for a while on the question of Mary and the saints. In Catholic theology, Mary is regarded as the Mediatrix.196 The first point to note is that the word ‗mediatrix‘ or mediator does not mean exactly the same thing when applied to Jesus Christ and to Mary. In relation to Christ, Vatican II‘s Lumen Gentium, (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) said: ― We have but one Mediator, as we know from the words of the apostle: ―For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all‖ (1Tim 2: 5-6) (L.G., 60). About Mary‘s role on the other hand, the Council wrote: The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ‘s, but rather shows its power. For all the saving influences of the Blessed Virgin on men…rests on His mediation, depend entirely on it …In no way do they impede the immediate union of the faithful with Christ. Rather, they foster this union.197 In traditional Catholic belief, the issue of Mary and the saints does not pose any difficulties because the word worship is used analogically. There are three types of worship according to Catholic theology: 1) Latria (a Latin word from the Greek latreia) that means worship of adoration and is used only for God, 2) Dulia (Latin word for the Greek douleia, slavery or state of serving). This applies to veneration of saints and, 3) Hyperdulia (again a Latin word from Greek hyper and douleia) meaning veneration of a higher degree. Similarly, the Catholics, although they ‗worship‘ the saints or perform cultural celebrations of the saints and pray to them, know that these remain human beings and that they cannot be worshipped as we worship God.198 This prayer invokes the saints, angels and ancestors to ―accompany the deceased to God‖. This invocation is not peculiar to the Shona people. The Nyakyusa people of Tanzania have a similar prayer where the ancestors are called upon to receive the deceased member of the family.199 Again, it might be of interest to note that in the Jewish liturgy of atonement, or Yom Kippur, there is an extensive memorial of Jewish ancestors from Adam to Aaron. However, as I have mentioned above, this request does not augur well with their status. Thus, the response ―accompany him/her to God‖ should be replaced by ―pray for him/her‖ which could be translated either as ―munamatireiwo‖ or ―mureverereiwo‖. Again, on this prayer Gundani argues that it does not follow traditional Shona order of intercession.200 In Shona culture, he wrote, ―…ancestors are invoked beginning with the most junior and ending up with the most senior, who if necessary, convey the message(s) to Mwari (the Shona High God)‖.201 He suggests that the prayer should follow this order and start with the most junior
196 197

Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 90. Vat. II. LG. N. 60. 198 Mawinza, "Specific Difference between the Attitude toward the Ancestral Spirits and Worship of God," 3747. 199 Wilson, Rituals of Kinship among the Nyakyusa, 70. 200 Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 91. 201 Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 90.


intercessors (relatives of the deceased) and ending up with the most senior (who, in this case is Mary). However, I think that the Shona Order for Burial prayer was structured according to Catholic order of intercession that begins with Mary, followed by the angels and lastly the saints. This is justifiable, in my belief, if we consider the fact that the prayer is being said within the Christian context. Africans believe that graves have to be magically protected from witches who may wish to desecrate them. It is believed that witches eat the flesh of the corpses or, worse, they can ‗steal‘ the ‗spirit of the dead‘ and turn him/her against his or her relatives. This fear is portrayed in prayer of blessing the grave.202 It has to be noted that at this point the grave is referred to as the ‗home‘, which is a traditional Shona concept. The problem with this prayer, a far I am concerned, is where the angels are invoked to protect the ‗home‘, excluding the ancestors of the deceased. In Shona traditional custom it is the duty of the ancestors to protect the family and its property. Before the body is lowered into the grave, the priest addresses the deceased to ‗enter his/her house (grave) and rest peacefully until the dead are raised by Christ at the end of time‘. The theological implication of this address is highly debatable. It can easily be mistaken for the belief in what used to be called in old Catholic theology ―limbo of the fathers‖. This was considered as the situation of those people who had been faithful to God before the coming of Christ. They had to wait for Christ‘s resurrection to have a share in his glory. The issue here is not that the address is not theologically sound but that modern theologians are not unanimous on the nature of resurrection. Some, like Karl Rahner hold the view that resurrection takes place at the time of one‘s death. 203 Others, like Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) argue that it takes place at the end of time.204 Therefore, this address should be removed or reformulated for theological reasons. The last prayer after the burial is unorthodox. It starts by asking Christ to look after the deceased and then the mourners gathered at the funeral. Attention is given to the deceased‘s children and immediate family, surprisingly, the prayer then addresses the deceased directly to protect and intercede for his/her family and lead them to heaven when they die. The prayer would be theologically sound if it is addressed to Christ and to the ancestors who are with God. 4.2 FUNDAMENTAL AREAS IN TRADITIONAL BURIAL RITUAL

In this section let me enumerate some points that the ZCBC could work out. In the first place, let me remind ourselves that the Funeral Liturgy in the Roman Rite has been given as a model because funeral rites do exist in different nations. Practically no country today uses the Latin text, even in Rome. Therefore, it is clear that we should inculturate the liturgy. a. The ritual cleansing The preparation of the body for burial is one of the essential components of the Shona burial ceremony. As we have seen from chapter two, it was taboo, an abominable thing, to bury the
202 203

Gundani, "Christology in the Inculturated Shona Burial Ritual", 91-92. G. McCool, A Rahner Reader (1958), 358-360. 204 A. Nichols, The Theology of Joseph Ratzinger (1988), 175-182.


body without being ritually cleansed. This ritual has great significance to the Shona because it is a sign of respect to the dead. Even today the Shona perform this ritual diligently. Although there are commercial funeral services where professional undertakers cleanse the bodies, the majority of the people are still performing this ritual cleansing according to traditional custom, especially in the rural areas where this professional service is not available. Hence, I think that it is not an over statement to argue that it will be of great service to the Shona Christians if this ritual is christianised so that the Christian burial ceremony becomes meaningful to the people. b. Cooling the dead The metaphor of 'cooling' the dead is very common in Shona funeral ceremonies where everything is done scrupulously so as to pacify the spirit of the dead.205 This is symbolised by placing some weeds, mahapa and nhokwe, in the grave. The purpose of this ritual is to 'soften' the spirit of the dead and this is signified by the tenderness of the weeds. Although this ritual is not common in urban areas, the majority of the people in the rural areas, who still have great respect for traditional customs, cannot do away with it. How can this ritual be Christianised or how can we incorporate this Shona idea of 'cooling' the dead in our funeral rite? In the New Testament the living water (that is, spring water) signifies Christ and the life he gives. John 7: 37-38 says: "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‗Out of the believers‘ heart shall flow rivers of living water‖. In another passage from the same Gospel Jesus said; " The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water, gushing up to eternal life" (4:14). Further, Matthew 11:29-30 reads: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls".206 Kizito Mavima sums this nicely when he wrote: Mahapa izvi zvinoreva rupenyu runonyorovera nokufadza zvikuru. Samahapa asingafi nokuti ari mumvura nomufi wedu haafi kana ari munaKristu nokuti ndiye mvura youpenyu. Mvura mhenyu. Saka mufi wedu tinoda kuti agare munyika musingafiwi. (Water- lilies represent soft and happy life. Since the water lilies do not die because they are in water, our dead is not dead because he/she is in Christ for Christ is the water of life, the living Water. Therefore, we want our dead to live in a world where death does not exist) [English translation mine].207 There are two elements that I think are important if this rite is to be Christianised properly, namely, that (1) Christ is the one who gives eternal peace to our dead: "Peace I live with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.‖ (John 14:27), (2) Christ is life and gives life to all those who die believing in him: "And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?‖ (John 11: 26).208


B. Muchemwa, ―Mahapa or Nhokwe: An Analysis of the Shona concept of ‗cooling‘ the dead and its relevance in a Christian Funeral rite,‖ Crossroads (2001), 22. 206 B. Muchemwa, ―Mahapa or Nhokwe: An Analysis of the Shona concept of ‗cooling‘ the dead‖, 22. 207 Mavima, Maitiro Okuviga Vafi Vedu, 12. 208 B. Muchemwa, ―Mahapa or Nhokwe: An Analysis of the Shona concept of ‗cooling‘ the dead‖, 23.


c. Throwing of dust The practice of throwing soil on the coffin is so important to the Shona Christians today that a burial ceremony without it is a ceremony half-done. We have to ask ourselves that when committing the dead to the earth, why the Shona say: “Uri huruva, uchadzokerazve kuhuruva (You are dust and to dust you shall return)? The Hebrew Scriptures have four words that have been translated 'dust' in our Bible, namely bg (Exodus 9: 9); dg (2 Chronicles 34: 4); pr (Genesis 2: 27; 3: 19); and shg (Isaiah 41:2). The most important word for discussion is pr, which means ‗ground‘, or 'underworld'.209 Genesis 2: 7 and 3: 19 says human beings were created from 'dust', called to till 'dust and return to 'dust' when life ends. To the Jews then the end of human life is a return to 'dust' that is, mother-earth, out of which the body was moulded. This dust was, therefore, the place of the dead.210 It is widely accepted by scholars that pouring dust on the dead was a demonstration of extreme grief and pain of the individual and nation. Apart from Job 2: 12, in which Job's friends sprinkled dust on their hands mourning the death of his children, there is no reference in the Old Testament in which this practice was a direct reference to mourning for the dead. The motive of this practice, says Aileen de Ward, is ―... to seek anonymity at times of luminous portents‖.211 To get a better understanding of the concept of pouring dust onto the head, we have to go back to the first point that pr-dust-in the Old Testament is the place of the dead. It is this dust of the place of the dead that is put on the head, the epitome of human life. Thus, we can say that the gesture of pouring dust on the head was an expression of rage in the face of the death and sign of self-burial. This suggests that the act was performed with the hope that death would not recognise the mourner. It was another way of hiding oneself from death. As de Ward pointed out, the potency of death is felt so greatly at the death of a person that to escape its blow one has to identify oneself with death.212 This practice as it has come down to us in the Church today is different from what we have in the Bible. Unlike the practice in the Bible where the dust is put on the head of the mourners, in Christian practice today dust is put on the coffin of the dead. In the Bible, the dust is put on the heads of the mourners to show their association with the dead, and thus a wish rather to be dead than alive in the face of death. The practice of the Church today suggests an acceptance of death as a fact of life and not a way of bidding farewell to the dead (kuonekana nomufi). Thus the Church, by its practice today accepts death as the inevitable end of all humans. However, Christians look beyond the grave as the ultimate destination of humans after death. The Christian, today, by this practice holds that death is a reward, a means to be with Jesus Christ. Thus death becomes a very welcome event and a gainful thing (1 Colossians 15: Romans 8: 38 – 39). The foregoing exegetical analysis clearly shows that this practice of throwing dust into the grave has deep significance in a burial ceremony.

209 210

B. Ntreh, ―Dust to Dust, Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes: Origins of A Christian practice‖. BETH (1996): 34. C. Westermann, Genesis 1: 1: A Commentary (1984), 206. 211 Cited by Ntreh, ―Dust to Dust, Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes‖. 39. 212 Ntreh, ―Dust to Dust, Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes‖. 39.


d. Post-burial purification It is common among the Shona for the mourners to wash themselves after burial. At all the funerals I have attended both in urban and rural areas, that mourners should wash their hands and feet at the deceased's home after burial is mandatory. The close affinity between this Shona (African) purification ritual and the Jewish ritual as described in the Old Testament is extraordinary. The connection between death and evil was a strong one in antiquity. The Jews believed that evil issued from a corpse, making anyone who came into contact with a corpse or a grave in which a corpse lay buried, unclean (Numbers 5:2). According to Jewish law such a person was banned from entering the sanctuary, the dwelling place of God, for the stipulated period of seven days. Further, anyone who enters a tent where there is a corpse, as well as those in the tent at the time of death is unclean. The same applies to anything exposed to the dead, such as the contents of a jar that has been left open.213 Now, the Jewish ritual of purification was as follows: the unclean individuals were required to submit to a ritual of purification in which the ashes of a red heifer, mixed with fresh water were sprinkled on them, their tents and their possessions. This was done by someone ritually clean, not necessarily a priest on the third and seventh days. Those being cleansed would then wash their clothes, bathe themselves, and return to the camp in the evening of the day of purification (Numbers 9: 1-22). The person sprinkling the water would also become unclean and would therefore wash his/her clothes and remain outside until evening. Anyone who refused to submit to the purification ritual was excluded from the community lest the whole community be defiled. However, the ritual of purification that is carried out with the notion that death is contagious is at variance with the Christian gospel. One has to take into account the New Testament (Jesus‘) views on the issue of purification. Jesus‘ views on ritual cleanliness and washings are revolutionary. To Jesus what defile a person are actions, the product of the heart. Answering the questions, ―Why do your disciples not observe the laws of washing which our tradition lays down?‖ (Matthew 15: 2), Jesus said that the most important thing in religion is a clean heart and a loving life. In other words, the ritual washing should reflect the state of one‘s heart, ―Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God‖ (Matthew 5: 8). What matters to God is not so much how we act, but why we act; not so much what we actually do, but what we wish in our hearts to do. A Christian rite of purification should reflect these insights if it is to be accorded the extent and depth of consideration it deserves. By washing one‘s hands and feet and purifying the house after burial, one should actually be saying, ‗May God purify my heart from the fear of death and from any grudge against the deceased and the bereaved. May God purify my mind from evil thoughts and any suspicion on the cause of death‖. Paul says a ritual without inward devotion is meaningless (Roman 2: 25-29; 1 Corinthians 7: 19; Galatians 5: 6). In 1973 an Anglican priest E.B. Magava suggested that this traditional rite should be allowed to continue in the Church. The following was his proposal: This custom could be allowed to continue without the present mixture of 'leaves' and water. The priest could say a prayer over the water before it is used for washing, stressing not the old belief of its supposed power to drive away death and bad luck,

B. Muchemwa, Death and Burial (2002), 60.


but the washing that was done once and for all to those who are baptised. The fact that sin, which brings death, was removed from us by the water of baptism could be emphasized.214 Godfrey Manunga, a Congolese missionary who worked in Matebeleland region from 1993 to 1996 also suggested that: From the ablution of tools, used for digging the grave, the Church can consider the expressed Ndebele desire of being purified after burial. At this level, the exorcism practice of the Church or para-liturgy for purification of the family and the family members could be developed. There are some acceptable elements to consider in view of genuine inculturation.215 e. Praising the dead Among the Shona, generally speaking we say wafa wanaka (meaning a dead person is faultless). Before the body is put into the grave it is customary to allocate time for the speakers (vatauri) to say something good about the deceased. So when one is given time to speak one is expected to praise the deceased. It is an abomination to criticise the deceased whether the criticism is justified or not. This does not apply to the Shona only but in many African tribes praise of the deceased has a formal place in the burial. 216 Although the Rite of Christian Burial discourages replacing the funeral homily with a eulogy, as I have indicated in the first chapter, the minister or the priest conducting the burial can formalise this practice. Examples can be given of the deceased‘s charitable works, faithfulness to the sacramental life. As Jean van Cauwelaert suggests: The praises which are sung in honour of the departed must express, above all, the great religious acts of his life, his baptism, his conformation, his marriage, the numerous Holy Communion he had received, the last Sacraments, his faith in the Redemption, and his will to abstain from every superstitious practice at his death.217 f. Scripture readings and social needs In African traditional society death affects the family and the community on two levels: the spiritual (or psychological) and the social. Thus, as I have indicated in the second chapter, traditional African funerals had a two-fold function: to create harmony between the living and the dead, and within the family/community. At a Shona funeral the family/community elders take the opportunity to iron out differences between family members. People who normally do not see eye to eye are encouraged to bury their differences for the good of the family. Today it is not unusual for the relatives of the deceased to have a post-burial family meeting to solve a long-standing feud or problem in the family. Appropriate punishment or warning is given to the wrong-doer. The life of the deceased is sometimes used as an example of how one should live with others in the family.


E. Magava, ―African Customs Connected with the Burial of the Dead in Rhodesia,‖ in Christianity South of the Zambezi 1 (1973), 156. 215 G. Manunga, Evangelization and Inculturation in the “Ndebele-Kalanga” Cultural Context (2001), 63. 216 J. Challancin, ―Afro-Christian Liturgy: Pastoral Suggestions,‖ AFER 1981), 333. 217 J. van Cauwelaert, J. ―Local Customs and Liturgy,‖ in Liturgy and the Mission: The Nijmegen Papers (1960), 218.


This post-burial gathering is not only a problem-solving meeting. Unlike in the past where the distribution of the property of the deceased and inheritance were dealt with a year after burial, today this is done immediately after burial. At this meeting a person is appointed to fill the gap left by the deceased in the immediate and extended family. The responsibilities of each and every family member towards the survivors (widows, children, etc) are clearly spelt out. This is also a ‗normalisation‘ meeting meant to reconstitute the family after the chaos caused by death. At the post-burial meeting words of advice, reconciliation and love are shared. This is the dimension that I think is not getting enough attention in Shona Catholic funerals today. The scripture passages that are read at a funeral are only focussed on the deceased, his/her faith in Christ, good works and the resurrection of the dead. Nothing much is said about people who accuse each other of causing the death of the deceased, who use the death of a relative to make a fortune, or who fight over the estate of the deceased. At a funeral the Christian community should preach the gospel of (1) reconciliation: suspicions and false accusations should be dealt with in a Christian spirit, (2) fraternal love: people should not disappear after burial only to reappear a year later for the memorial service. The survivors are left alone to cope with the reality and ravages of death. In some cases the widows and orphans resort to prostitution and street begging to fend for themselves. No one feels responsible towards the family left behind by the deceased. Therefore, the scripture passages chosen at a funeral should not only serve the spiritual (psychological) needs of the survivors but the social needs as well. In the next section I shall propose a new Shona Order for Burial that, I think is both African and Christian in spirit, content and structure. This is not definitive but just a framework of an inculturated burial rite. It is offered here to generate a pastoral-theological debate that, I think, could lead to the formulation of a Shona Catholic Burial Rite that captures not only the fundamental tenets of the Catholic faith but also the essential and noble customs of the Shona people. 4.3 A PROPOSED SHONA ORDER FOR BURIAL RITE

i. Prayer to the ancestors (at the home of the deceased) M= Minister A= All
On the day of burial, the faithful and other people go to the home of the deceased to pray for the soul of the departed and to console the bereaved. They spend their time singing, praying and reading appropriate chapters of the Bible. Since the majority of the Shona people bury their dead before midday (sometimes in the afternoon), the final prayers for the dead usually begin at about midmorning. The priest, or an elder of the Christian community (who is normally called a minister), leads the prayers. The priest is normally accompanied by servers carrying the cross, holy water and incense. The minister goes into the hut or the room where the body is lying in state and instructs the pallbearers to carry the body outside the house/hut where s/ he begins the service with for the following prayer.


My dear brothers and sisters, we are gathered here to pray for the repose of N. who has departed from us. Let us pray with confidence to God that he will raise up his/her mortal body to the perfection and the company of the saints


A. M. A. M. A. A.


and the ancestors in his Kingdom. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen Praise be the Lord. For ever and ever. Lord, hear our prayers. Let our prayers come before you. Let us pray: To all the ancestors who are with God! We have gathered here to commend to you your son/daughter N. We ask you to accompany him/her safely on his/her journey. Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, you said, ― No one can come to the Father except through me,‖ listen to our prayers and receive N. in God‘s kingdom and intercede on his/her behalf. May you admit him/her to your everlasting joys with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with all the angels and saints, and the ancestors who are with you forever and ever. Amen.

The minister then incenses and sprinkles the body with holy water. If there is no Eucharistic service, the minister says the following prayer or the body is taken directly to the church for the Eucharistic service.

ii. Prayer to God (at the home of the deceased or in church)
After the communion the priest, standing near the coffin, says the following prayer. If the funeral service is being held at the home of the deceased the minister says this prayer after incensing and sprinkling the body with holy water.

M. A. M. A. M.


Give him/her eternal rest, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon him/her. May s/he rest in peace. Amen. Let us pray: God of Heaven and Earth, father of mercy, we your children have gathered here to accompany and commend your child to you. You have called him/her from this life. Let there be no other place for him/her except with you. Receive him/her since you are his/her creator. Forgive him/her all his/her sins and lead him/her into your place of happiness and joy. Have mercy on him/her and do not judge or punish him/her harshly. Lord, if you judge us according to our faults who can survive? If you, O Lord, keep a record of our sins, our cry would not reach you, our tears would not touch you. Our eyes are full of tears but your heart is full of mercy. Therefore, lead your child into the happiness of your home where s/he will be happy with all the saints, his/her forefathers, grandfathers and grandmothers and his/her relatives. Christ our Lord, present our petition to God the Father. Amen.

iii. Prayer of accompanying the deceased
To make it more meaningful to the bereaved, the minister may ask a senior member of the deceased family to say the prayer of accompanying the deceased. In this case the paternal and maternal family names may be included.


Lord, have mercy. 63

A. M. A. M. A. M A M A M A M A M. A. M. A. M. A. M. A. M. A. M. A. M. A. M. A. M. A. M. A. M.


Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. God, the Father of Heaven. Have mercy on him. God the Son, Redeemer of the world. Have mercy on him. God the Holy Spirit. Have mercy on him. Holy Trinity, one God. Have mercy on him. Holy Mary, Mother of God, here is your child N. Pray for him/her. You, his/her patron saint and you, his/her guardian angel, there is the person who belongs to you. Pray for him/her. All you, angels and saints. Pray for him/her. You, of his/her father's lineage who are in heaven, here is your child. Pray for him/her. You, his/her fathers and all his/her forefathers who are in heaven, here is your child. Pray for him/her. You, of his/her mother's lineage who are in heaven, here is your child. Pray for him/her. You, his/her maternal uncles and his/her maternal grandmothers who are in heaven, here is your child. Pray for him/her. You, all his/her relatives and friends who are in heaven, here is your relative. Pray for him/her. Give him/her eternal rest, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon him/her. May s/he rest in peace. Amen Let us pray: O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful! By your power Christ conquered death and returned to you in glory. Grant to the soul of your servant N. the remission of his/her sins and may s/he obtain the pardon that s/he always desired. Since our brother/sister believed in the mysteries of our resurrection, let him/her share the joys and blessings of the angels, saints and all his/her relatives who are with you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

iv. Sprinkling the body with holy water
During the sprinkling of the body with holy water, the flowers and the photographs of the deceased must be removed from the coffin except the white cloth, the cross and (if available) the Bible. Before sprinkling the body the minister says this prayer.




I sprinkle you with this water of appeasement. May this water cool down your temper and remove all anger in you. With this water may you forgive all those who may have wronged you. May it remove all bitterness and all feelings of revenge you may have. May you be cleansed of all sins and the ‗dirt‘ of this life that may still be clinging to you. May you be raised to new and everlasting life. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The minister goes round the coffin sprinkling it with holy water.

M. A.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

v. Blessing with incense M. I incense you with the smoke of heaven. May this smoke be a sign of the new life you now enjoy with Christ, the saints and all your ancestors who are with God. With this smoke we pray that God may protect you from the kingdom of darkness and admit you into the splendour of his kingdom of light. A. Amen
The minister again goes round the coffin incensing it.

M. A.

In the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen

After incensing the coffin, the minister should give time or invite a few selected people to say a word about the deceased. Here the discourse should be different from a Christian sermon but may clarify the deceased’s position in the Christian community (or in his/her family), describe his/her work in the society or may just be a word of condolence to the widow (or widower), the children and to close relatives.

vi. Procession to the cemetery
The people then proceed to the cemetery singing hymns or praying the rosary or the litany of all the saints or some other prayers for the dead.

vii. At the grave
The coffin is placed near the grave. The minister may read a passage from the Bible and preach on it. The blessing of the grave follows this sermon. The Church blesses the grave before burial because the grave is a resting place of a body waiting for the resurrection, and for the Christians, a grave (or cemetery) is a continuous reminder of God’s eternal glory.

M. A. M.

A. M.

Blessed be the name of the Lord Now and for ever Let us pray: Almighty God, this is the house of rest of your child N. where we are laying him/her. Protect it from his/her enemies and from all evil spirits. We ask you to send your angels to guard it. Our Mother Mary, all the saints and the ancestors who are in heaven, we commit this house into your care. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. I sprinkle this house with holy water so that it is protected and sanctified 65

A. M. A.

by God, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. I incense this house with holy incense so that it is protected and sanctified by God, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

The minister then sprinkles the grave with holy water

After this the grave is then incensed as a suitable hymn is sung.

a. Blessing the cross
It is appropriate for the minister to start this ritual by explaining the meaning of the cross in the Christian sense. The cross symbolises redemption and the resurrection. Since pre-Christian times, it has been a custom to mark the place of burial by the erection of a grave mound. The Church has adopted this tradition, beatifying the grave mound with the victorious sign of our salvation - the Cross-, which may be depicted on the gravestone or elevated over it. It was originally placed at the feet of the buried Christian, so that he/she would be facing the crucifix. Today it is placed at the head of the dead to signify the mark of the cross that is made on the head during baptism. The minister then asks one of the pallbearers to bring the cross that will be placed on the grave and blesses it saying:



Lord Jesus Christ, by your death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, you conquered death and brought us to life. Bless this cross we shall place on this grave that it may be a sign of our redemption. May our beloved N. and all those who die believing in you be raised up in your glory. Amen.

The minister sprinkles the cross with holy water. After this s/he makes the sign of the cross over the grave using this cross, starting from the head, the middle and then the feet saying:

M. A.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

b. The burial
The minister then instructs the pallbearers to lower the body in the grave whilst people are singing appropriate hymns. Then he says:

M. A. M. A. M.

Give him/her eternal rest, O Lord And may perpetual light shine on him/her forever. May s/he rest in peace. Amen. Let us pray: Lord Jesus, our life, our resurrection and our way to heaven. We entrust our brother/sister to your mercy, whom you have called from this life. Through your death and resurrection you opened the gates of heaven for those who believe in you. Welcome him/her into paradise where, in the company of your saints and his/her ancestors, will live forever. Lord, protect the family s/he has left behind. Be their source of consolation during this time of sorrow, compassion and strength during tribulations and their refuge in every adversity. Protect this family from the spirit of false accusation, suspicion and division. Send your Holy Spirit, the Consoler, that they may come to terms with this tragedy and accept death as the beginning of new life in you. Who lives and reigns forever and ever. 66

A. Amen c. Throwing dust into the grave
Among the Shona, especially the Zezuru, it is a tradition that water lilies or reeds are thrown into the grave after the body had been put into the grave for the reason I have in chapter two. Depending upon the custom of the area, the minister may offer holy water to the relatives of the deceased who are present so that they may pour holy water upon the coffin in the grave. After this the minister proceeds to the ritual of throwing soil into on the coffin in the grave. It is important to note that the practice of throwing soil on the head probably developed from the Jewish practice of throwing dust on the head of the mourner. It was a demonstration of extreme grief and pain. The Christian practice is an acceptance of death as the inevitable end of all human beings, a symbol of human mortality. The minister may give a short homily on the biblical meaning of dust or read a short passage from the scriptures. During this ritual the people should be silent as the minister says the following prayer.

M. We were created by God out of dust, and fashioned out of his image. He gave us his spirit that is life itself. By his will, dust returns to dust, where it came from, the spirit returns to him, the source of life. At this hour we commit our brother/sister to the earth. We bid him/her farewell and wish him/her a safe journey home. We have accompanied him/her to his/her new home. We have seen death face to face. We have come in contact with the dust of the dead. We have become part of the dead. As we sprinkle dust upon his/her body, we remember our frailty, weakness and the shortness of our life. We are reminded of death that comes like a thief. We are reminded of sin and the need for repentance. We are afraid of death and the judgement to come. Through sin we return to dust, through repentance and God‘s mercy, we are raised to new life. Go, forth, Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the Almighty Father, who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ, who redeemed you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who sanctified you. May you rest in peace, with all the saints, and all your ancestors in heaven, and be admitted into the company of the blessed. A. Amen.
The minister then instructs the mourners to throw soil in the grave starting with the close relatives of the dead. During this ritual an appropriate hymn is sung. Before the grave is filled with soil people are allowed to say a few words about the deceased or to make some announcements about the rest of the funeral programme. After the grave has been filled with soil, people proceed to the home of the deceased.

viii. Purification of the mourners 67

At the home of the deceased, a bowl or bucket of water is brought outside and the people gather round it with the minister at the centre. Shrubs to be used as sprinklers are brought forward. Depending upon the circumstances, the minister may say a few words to instruct the people on the significance of this ritual. The minister, if s/he is a priest, then blesses the water. If the minister is not a priest and there is water that had been blessed already, the minister says the following prayer omitting the underlined words.

M. Our help is in the name of the Lord A. Who created heaven and earth M. Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to bless the water we have before us. (+) Give this water the power to wash from all of us fear of death. As we wash ourselves with this water, we pray that you may remove from us all suspicions of witchcraft and sorcery, false accusations and any grudge we may have against each other and the deceased. Soothe all grief-stricken hearts and injured feelings. With this water heal the divisions and the chaos that may have been caused by this death and help us to start a new life. May you purify our hearts and minds of all ill feelings. May this water bring reconciliation and enable us to build a new community. We make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. A. Amen.
After the prayer the minister sprinkles all the mourners with holy water or leave the mourners to wash their feet instead.

a. Purification of the deceased’s house/hut
After the purification of the mourners, the minister then goes to the house/hut where the deceased stayed during his/her last days. A senior member of the deceased’s family should be reminded to put the personal belongings of the deceased together. The minister stands at the door and says.

M. Our help is in the name of the Lord. A. Who created heaven and earth. M. Let us pray: Our Lord Jesus Christ, by your death and resurrection you defeated the power of evil. We ask you to purify this property and the house in which your child N. lived. Purify it of all evil spirits. All the ancestors who are with God protect your children and all who live here from all sickness, afflictions and nightmares. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. A. Amen. M. Lord, may you send your Holy Spirit to dwell in this house to console those who have lost their beloved one. May this holy water give them strength during this time of loss. Who lives and reigns forever and ever. A. Amen.
The minister then goes into the house/hut accompanied by assistants/servers and close relatives of the deceased and sprinkles it with holy water whilst the rest stay outside.

M. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. A. Amen. M. I incense this house/hut so that the Spirit of the Lord may dwell in it. May this incense chase away all harmful spirits and liberate you from the fear of death. 68

The minister then repeats the same procedure when incensing the house/hut.

ix. Conclusion of the rite
If the presiding minister is a priest he concludes with the following blessing or any other form of blessing. He stands at the door of the hut/house facing the people.

M. The Lord be with you. A. And also with you. M. May the almighty God of our ancestors bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The people are invited to leave.

M. Go in the peace of Christ. A. Thanks be to God.
If the minister is not a priest he concludes the rite as follows:

M. The Lord bless us, and console us and keep us from all evil thoughts, and bring us to everlasting life. CONCLUSION In my view the Shona burial rite formulated by Joseph Kumbirai is one of the most beautiful rites that one can find in sub-Saharan Africa. Its structure appears to be beyond all criticism and the sentiments expressed in its prayers reflect the Shona beliefs of the dead. It is not surprising that it has received positive appraisal from theologians in the sub-Saharan region. It is regarded as one of the models of liturgical inculturation that takes into account the culture of the people whilst maintaining its ‗Roman‘ flavour. However, I feel that the Shona Order for Burial needs to be improved by incorporating the most important elements that characterise the traditional Shona burial ceremony. My argument is that the Shona burial rite in use in Zimbabwe at present does not satisfy the peoples‘ need to exorcise the fear of death from the bereaved family, effect the smooth transition of the dead to the world of the spirits and to rebuild the bereaved family after the chaos caused by death. There is more to be done in this process of inculturation of the funeral liturgy and this is just the beginning. I hope this research will inspire the pastoral workers to look into ways how this project can be completed.


GENERAL Conclusion

The theology of inculturation that I am proposing in this essay is not a kachasu or chikokiyani type of inculturation. Kachasu is a cocktail of methylated spirit, calcium carbide, tobacco, fertiliser, brown sugar, yeast, and so on, that is brewed and consumed in most high density suburbs in Zimbabwe. In colonial Rhodesia, blacks were not allowed to drink the high-quality and well-brewed European beer. Now, as migrant workers, far away from the rural areas, the blacks were not able to make the traditional beer that required seven days of intensive brewing. Faced with such dilemma the blacks resorted to the cheap, illicit but highly toxic kachasu that can take only a few hours to brew. Kachasu is an attempt by the poor black people to do away with European culture and to revive the traditional customs. But without the necessary ingredients and a system of quality 70

control, what came out of this ‗innovation‘ was neither African nor European. The quality, taste and the level of intoxication is something out of this world, a new product altogether, a drug. Therefore, kachasu is an offspring of the ghetto slums that came about as a result of European pressure. If inculturation is the haphazard revival of African traditions and customs then it is a psychological retreat before European pressure, a drug, kachasu/chikokiyani. If inculturation is characterised by a process of pick and choose, retaining one thing and discarding another, then it is kachasu, highly toxic. Kachasu was a quick-fix type of drink that ignored all the standards and methods of brewing and compromised the quality of the final product. A kachasu type of inculturation is not only an irrational mixture of African and Christian values, but also something that is neither African nor Christian. If inculturation is not to be kachasu then it should be an organic process that takes into account the whole pattern of African or Shona life and culture. Shona life, or African life, is essentially religious, the African thoughts and actions are permeated with religion. A wellbrewed, high-quality, inculturated Shona Christianity then in an intelligent integration into modern life what seems valuable from the past. There are many neutral customs and practices in Shona society, traditional and modern, which have a hidden religious meaning and character. What this means is that there should be a positive effort on the part of the modern Shona to identify which values are distinctively Shona, renew and use them as the basis for building a genuinely indigenous Shona Church. This positive process is not kachasu, but may be called ‗Shonalisation‘. It is the assimilation of those elements which modern African church demands, and in this process the elements are so transformed and adapted that a wellbrewed, high-quality inculturated Shona Christianity emerges out of it. There are many reasons why people, especially the laity, resort to a kachasu type of inculturation. Let me point out some of them: 1. The clergy who should have the knowledge about Christian doctrine and practice are not committed to the cause of inculturation. Those who should be in charge of the brewing process are not the laity but the clergy. If the laity led the whole process there is a danger of having a kachasu/chikokiyani type of Christianity, which is mediocre and shallow in doctrine and practice. 2. Another problem is ignorance of cultural issues. The clergy either do not know or do not understand our cultural heritage or are just ignore them in favour of western ideology. Issues about midzimu (ancestor spirits), kurova guva, birth, marriage death etc, are relegated to the background or simply classified as ‗diabolic‘. 3. In the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe the biggest problem is procrastination whose cousin is complacency. The clergy always talk and sing about inculturation but we never begin the process. Surely the blame lies heavily on them that nothing practically has been achieved. Are they waiting for a time when perfection would come, or when the best brains would handle the subject? Or should they wait until the Roman rite of burial handed to us from ages and successively reformed is revised again by Rome itself? If we are afraid of making mistakes then we should remember that the person who never goes wrong is the person who has never been born. The journey of a hundred mile starts with one step. 71

Lastly, the challenge before all Africans is to create a traditionalised Christianity that will permeate all aspects of African life so that there may not be a dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. The task of all believers is to eliminate conflict that now exists among African Christian faithful who try to live the Gospel values on the one hand and the traditional practices on the other. Inter-faith dialogue should have its roots deep in local communities, and move upward through the parish, diocesan and national levels. Few dioceses in Zimbabwe have put in place special commissions charged with matters of culture. On the national level there are such bodies whose function is sporadic and mainly in response to explosive crisis- situations. The prevailing pastoral exigencies in Africa demand a much more spirited and well co-ordinated programme involving the clergy, religious and lay members of the Church that should aim at the systematic understanding of different aspects of the traditional religious culture and life, especially death and burial rites. Such an exercise that clearly arises from the inherent logic of the Gospel itself and reiterated in our age by the teachings of Vatican II, is a fundamental prerequisite to any relevant and lasting catechesis and inculturation of the Christian faith in Africa.

Appendix 1

Glossary of Shona Words & Phrases

1. Chema, zvimiti 2. Donhodzo 3. Dunzvi, muzukuru 4. Garadziva 5. Gudza, gondo 6. Hwanyanza, banda 7. Itsika yedu 8. Imba 9. Kandiro kanoenda kunobva Kamwe 10. Kuchema 11. Kudzana ngoma yorufu

Gifts given at a funeral as a sign of grief. A cooling or appeasing agent (kutonhodza-to cool). Male nephew, family of the son-in-law; vazukuru (plural). Water lilies. Traditional blanket made of cowhide. A stretcher bed made of poles. It is our culture/custom/tradition House One good turn deserves another. To cry, wail. To beat a drum of death.


12. Kukanda ivhu 13. Kuonekana nomufi 14. Kupira, kusuma 15. Kurasa rushanga Kurunga mudzimu

17. Kusiyiwa muguva 18. Kutema rukarwa 19. Kwenje, tsuri 20. Mahapa 21. Mbanda 22. Midzimu 23. Mubani 24. Mudona 25. Mudzimu mukuru 26. Mukarati, munhondo 27. Mukuwasha 28. Munamatireiwo, mureverereiwo 29. Mupfuti 30. Musasa 31. Mutarara 32. Musosawafa, chizhuzhu 33. Muswowabeto 34. Muvheneki 35. Mwari wemadzibaba edu 36. Mweya 37. N’anga 38. Nhokwe 39. Nhope 40. Ngoma yehokero 41. Ngozi 42. Nyadenga 43. Pfungaidzo, manhuwanhuwa 44. Rupasa 45. Sahwira 46. Tsapata rukukwe hazvienzane

47. Uri huruva, uchadzokerazve kuhuruva 48. Varoyi 73

To throw the soil (into the grave). (ivhusoil). To bid farewell to the dead. To offer something. To cast away misfortune. To (‗salt‘) arouse the anger of the ancestors. (kurunga- to put salt on something). To be left in the grave. To cut the first sod at a site where a grave is to be dug. One note wooden flute that is played continuously. Flower gold A shrub that has a pungent smell (tagetes minuta-black jack grass). Ancestors (plural); mudzimu (singular) Wet ground. A fig tree that is rich in latex. (Ficus stuhlmannii). The most senior ancestor. Burkea Africana Son-in-law. Pray/intercede for him/her Brachystegia boehmii A temporary shelter or hut Small tree with hard wood. (Gardenia jovis-tonantis). Gymnosporoia senegalensis Asparagus fern Undertaker, one who leads the way. God of our forefathers (Mwari – God) Spirit, soul. Traditional (indigenous) healer. A type of river-grass, (Scirpus inclinatus). Unfermented beer. A traditional death- warning drum. (ngoma- drum; hokero- to invite). An avenging spirit. The Heavenly One, God Smoke that irritates the eyes. A sleeping mat made from split reeds. Ritual friend Even a badly worn out mat is better to nokurara pasi sleep on than sleeping on bare floor. (Shona proverb). ‗You are dust and to dust you shall return‘ Witches (singular: muroyi- a witch).

49. Vatauri 50. Wafa Wanaka 51. Watishora 52. Zumbani

Speakers (kutaura – to speak). ‗A dead person is faultless‘. You have despised us. A shrub that has a fragrant smell. Its leaves are also used to prepare a cough mixture. (Lippia javanica).

Appendix 2

Shona Proverbs on Death

1. Rufu runoudzwa mombe, rukaudzwa munhu anotiza/Chinonzi ifa imombe, munhu anotiza. Death can be announced to an ox, if is announced to a person he/she runs away. 2. Munhu anonzi gara tidye, kwete kuti gara tife. A person is asked to wait for food, not for death. 3. Hapana mutunhu usina guva? Hapana nyika isina rinda. There is no region without a grave. 4. Shure kweguva hakuna muteuro/Kutsi kweguva hakuna munamato. Beyond the grave there is no prayer (offering). 5. Kufa kwehanga, mazai anoparara. When a guinea fowl dies her eggs also perish. 6. Rufu haruna nzira/Rufu haruna gwanza. Death has no (defined) path. 7. Rufu hauna n’anga. Death needs no diviner. 8. Mubayiro wezvivi rufu. The reward of sin is death.


9. Mwene worufu anoonekwa nebaravara. The relative of a dead person is recognised by his/her shaved head. 10. Rufu runita wegondo, runotora nhiyo richisiya mai vachichema. Death is like an eagle that takes a chick leaving the mother hen mourning. 11. Murwere anofa nebota rake. The sick person chooses to die with his thin porridge. 12. Vakafa vakazorora. The deceased are (now) resting in peace. 13. Rufu haruwaridzirwi nhoo/bonde. For death, no mat is spread. 14. Rufu haruzuvusi. Death does not give a warning. 15. Pasi hapaguti, panodya zvakakomba/Ivhu hariguti. The soil is never satisfied, hence it swallows even important people. 16. Rufu haruna ishe. Death knows no chief.


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