When a preacherman talks, you are supposed to listen. As part of his work, he deals with issues of death. Praying for the sick and dying, he commiserates, condoles, comforts and sympathises with the bereaved. In him, the bereaved finds coping strength, often based on his priestly advice or even prescribed coping mechanisms. Praying for the sick and burying the dead, if the sick person should die from the sickness, is one of his stressful functions. He visits to heal, and when healing fails and death occurs, he visits to do all the death management things.
His Islamic counterpart may not have to do that much. He also visits in sickness, but in death he has far less to do; much of it within the first 24 hours following the occurrence of death. Death is the end of life; the return to earth that which is made of earth. The dead get buried where death happens and burial is of the body that until death was a being. A simple cloth wrapping is all the dead gets to take back to his or her maker. No jewellery, nothing fancy to travel with to the land of the dead.
Only Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, from their biblical death interpretations, express something along the lines of the koranic dictates of death rites. Others of the biblical faith community seem to have developed exaggerations of rites with money splashing inching towards satanic vulgarity. The preacherman critic seems irked by the unnatural extension of the space between administering the extreme unction and the burial sermon. Memories of a life lived may have faded to enrich the sermon narration.
Therefore, between the Islamic leader and the person who preaches, the latter is more likely to have and express concern about death and the many things that the living would have to suffer for it. In periods gone by, long ago when we of yesterday were little children, the living paid a heavy price in things such as compulsory minimum three-day fasting, and walking barefoot for having sat by to allow the living relation to die.
Moreover, there were no cold storage facilities for preserving the dead body from decomposing fast in our tropical heat. There could be some kind of herbal treating to prevent decomposition in the form of embalmment. But that was reserved for the few like the chief who, in death, was still expected to enjoy some level of privilege when living also in death. A grieving period was, therefore, shortened by having to bury the dead within 24 hours and a fasting time of three days, including the day or night of death. Anything beyond that would be considered as unduly punishing the living.
Exactly one week after burial (nnaawotwe da), the extended family would converge to discuss and plan the final funeral rites. That would usually take place before the fortieth (adaduanan) day when the extended family and sympathisers would gather to seal the dead by distributing whatever property the deceased might have left behind among the wife and children, with the part that goes to the extended family handed over to the succeeding individual selected and appointed by the family to that position. Everything came to a close one year (afehyiada).
It was nothing like mourning continuously from the day of death till the afehyiada. Neither did mourning come to a final end with the afehyiada. In fact, mourning was an annual affair because one day in every year, during the annual Kwafie festival, would be dedicated to remembering the dead.
There are too many deaths occurring in higher frequency these days to be elaborately observed in the manner we have chosen to do now. Every dead has gone too soon to allow the soul to rest. Grieving families have their grieving unnecessarily extended for less than plausible reasoning, including one week profligate spending on the dead while the living wallow in poverty.
Let the dead bury their dead and let the living spend responsibly on what would enhance life to make people live life’s pleasant experiences and not just exist. The preacherman thinks death must do us part and that we shouldn’t be sucked by and stuck into death matters. Let the dead bury and take care of the dead while the living takes care of the living.
That in his view should translate into one week of death rituals irrespective of the social standing in life of the dead. In the state of death, there should be only one standing, completing all rites by the end of the eighth day. Otherwise it would be a funeral galamsey; unnaturally making money the wrong way.
By Kwasi Ansu-Kyeremeh