News / Africa

African Traditions, Military Pomp for Mandela Burial

A general view shows funeral preparations being made around the property of late former South African President Nelson Mandela in Qunu, Eastern Cape, South Africa, Dec. 12, 2013.
A general view shows funeral preparations being made around the property of late former South African President Nelson Mandela in Qunu, Eastern Cape, South Africa, Dec. 12, 2013.
Reuters
Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest on Sunday in an elaborate ceremony combining a state funeral and all its military pomp with the traditional burial rituals of his Xhosa clan to ensure he has an easy transition into the afterworld.

Many South Africans will revere Mandela, who during his life became a global symbol of peace and reconciliation, even more now that he has died, since ancestors are widely believed to have a guiding, protective role over the living.

Around 46 percent of the population practices traditional African religions, according to a 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, a Washington-based research center.

Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel leaves after viewing the casket at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel leaves after viewing the casket at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.
x
Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel leaves after viewing the casket at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.
Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel leaves after viewing the casket at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.
Mandela, of the abaThembu people and South Africa's first black president, died a week ago at the age of 95. Thousands of people have filed passed his body as it lies in state in Pretoria this week.

He will be buried by his family following their traditional burial rites on Sunday in Qunu, their ancestral home in the rural Eastern Cape province, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg.

If the rites are not carried out, the abaThembu believe the dead will come back in spirit to demand they are performed.

“We as Africans have rites of passage, whether it is a birth, marriage or funeral. Mandela will be sent off into the spiritual world so that he is welcomed in the world of ancestors. And also so that he doesn't get angry,” said Nokuzola Mndende, a scholar of African religion.

“His wrath won't be on the state if these ceremonies don't take place, it will be on his children,” Mndende said.

A man who for many embodied the Christian values of forgiveness, Mandela was the product of Xhosa traditional upbringing and Methodist schooling.

In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela spoke approvingly of the Xhosa rituals which his mother, a convert to the Methodist faith, resisted but his father followed, presiding over slaughter rituals and other traditional rites.

Cattle slaughter

For the abaThembu, the ritual of accompanying Mandela's spirit will include the slaughtering of an ox in the early hours of Saturday morning before receiving his body, flown in from Pretoria.

The ox meat is then boiled without spices in big, iron black pots in open fires outside.

“On Saturday, once the body has been received, the elders will speak and perform some rituals and then the body will spend the night at the home,” said Chief Mfundo Mtirara, spokesman for the abaThembu royal house.

Soldiers patrol on the edge of the property of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, Eastern Cape, Dec. 12, 2013.Soldiers patrol on the edge of the property of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, Eastern Cape, Dec. 12, 2013.
x
Soldiers patrol on the edge of the property of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, Eastern Cape, Dec. 12, 2013.
Soldiers patrol on the edge of the property of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, Eastern Cape, Dec. 12, 2013.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, before the funeral officially begins, another ox will be slaughtered as part of the family ritual of saying goodbye.

After that Mandela's body will be handed over to the church and then to President Jacob Zuma for the state funeral.

Finally King Dalindyebo, king of Mandela's clan, is expected to perform salutations to the dead that will send Mandela to the world of the ancestors.

The king's men will then join him in a last salutation before everyone returns home to wash their hands outside the family yard and have lunch.

A week later, the family take part in a ritual to “wash the spades” that dug his grave and, after a year has passed, another ox is slaughtered and the mourners remove their black mourning garb.

South Africa remembers Nelson Mandela

  • A card and note hang on the fence surrounding the Nelson Mandela National Museum, Mandela's former home, in Soweto, Dec. 12, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • A young boy traces the letters on the Vilakasi Street sign outside of Nelson Mandela's home in Soweto, now the Nelson Mandela National Museum, Dec. 12, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • Members of the Harley Owners Group, from chapters in Johannesburg and surrounding cities, visited Nelson Mandela's former home in the township of Soweto, Dec. 12, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • A brass band marches through the streets in front of Nelson Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • A group of mourners dance outside Nelson Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • A family takes a photo in front of Nelson Mandela's home, where a makeshift memorial was set up in the street, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • Mourners left flowers, posters, poems and cards, among other things, at a makeshift memorial outside of Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • A memorial site set up in Nelson Mandela Square, outside of the Sandton City Mall in Sandton, a suburb north of Johannesburg, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • Worshipers at the Melrose Hindu Temple during the national day of worship and prayer for Nelson Mandela, Dec. 8, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • People line up outside of the Union Buildings in Pretoria to sign a condolences book, Dec 6, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
  • Mourners sign a condolences book outside of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec 6, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)

You May Like

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

Ten Migrants Drown in Mediterranean, 4,800 Rescued

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs