CELEBRATING WITH DEATH
Death is an impending inevitability, at least this basic notion is universally agreed upon by all of humanity even some animals. Perhaps because of its malevolent omnipresence, hanging over us like the sword of Damocles, some will posit its due to the suddenness, non-respect for laid out order and rules as we know it, remember the oft quoted “death is no respecter of individuals irrespective of social status,wealth,age,creed even race, religion”
Society irrespective of diversity of thoughts and opinions are united in the avowed disapproval of death the emotion it conveys and ensuing grief, so much so that the allegoric visual rhetoric depicts it as a hooded insidious dark figure holding a scythe even the name ascribed “the grim reaper” is symptomatic of our attitude. Perhaps this informed Marcia Caterect’s view in her treatise cultural aspects of death and dying where she asserts that while the end of life experience is universal, the behaviors associated with expressing grief are very much culturally bound.
Death occurs obviously as a result of nature turning full cycle, going fully ephemeral albeit in one fluid predictable motion, sometimes abruptly through sickness, wars even domestic homicides, freak accidents this extra ordinary phenomenon is an established part of society. The issue is How do we respond to it, celebrate it or deal with the aftermath?
Does the western society's response to death differ from that of African societies? What role if any does social nuance, religion and tradition play, does the culturally constrictive response of the average westerner, juxtaposed with the much more expressive African response have veritable roles to play in determination?
These are searching questions and I suspect we would not get a universal and binding answer.
It goes without saying that death and ensuing grief irrespective of the religious slant even societal Physiology affect all in diverse but nevertheless predictable ways, societies response to death always involves the universally accepted stages of grief but outward response however seems to Differ and morph depending on the society and acceptable social etiquette.
Following a confrontation with death especially of a loved one family or close friend an extreme emotional experience of this sort elicits display of grief in outwardly expressive ways from crying to wailing and more inverted responses like brooding, deep thoughts and introspection even leading to depression in some cases. It often appears as if natural biology stimulates suppressed humanity by unleashing emotionally naked responses even many don’t realise they had in them prior.
Delving into the nucleus of this morbid social debate we are embarking on a typical western burial broadly speaking of course is symptomatic of their subdued response, it is characterised by mostly loved ones crying softly, a few will sport morose even bereft countenance, while in a reflective state, will often sport a sombre expression, a subdued and quiet gathering of mourners afterwards in a front room sharing memories of the departed.
There is a marked and obvious departure in the African response to death, in the style of burial where there is loads of dancing and singing there is often public and prolonged fanfare amidst week long celebration eating and drinking. Another visible difference is in the style and architectural aesthetic of head stones African head stones, even coffins in design illustrate outlandish and ostentatious displays. While the jury is out on which is more socially appropriate, there is a debate to be had on why there appears to be such extreme difference and inherence in the way and manner both seem to conduct and channel their grief. Most burials in western world typically in most cases don’t exceed a handful to less than 100 people, an African burial with similar number of mourners will reflect negatively on the family of the dead even the memory of the dead, with an average burial guest from a few hundreds upwards, there is a thriving industry of individuals whose sole job is getting paid to be professional criers/mourners.
In the midst of a convoluted cross pollination of culture, tradition and religion especially major religions practised by adherents (Christians and Muslims) extensively across both western and African societies seem to favour a Spartan burial. Their influence and motivation perhaps reflective of their beliefs and reward of a much better life and reward in the thereafter including vested ecclesiastical investment in the notion of destiny, in a preordination of any occurrence.
While the religious notion is firmly rooted hence control the psyche and muted emotional response of mostly western mourners, the traditional beliefs of the average African even amongst religious adherents often subsume their religious proclivity to be simple in conducting burials. Africans irrespective tend to be much more independently expressive in their display of grief, moreover the belief centres round the inherent theme of celebrating the life and achievements of the dead, the more ostentatious the burial the more society is accepting of the tribute, some also hinge this on the last respect and honour done the dead. The departed is arrayed in expensive clothes even jewelleries for use in the thereafter the coffin is displayed in the midst of dancing and singing all over the immediate neighbourhood of the departed.
In a strange contradiction while most broadly speaking across African society repel at any discussion or inference of death, many finding it offensive talking about drawing up a will or impending death of a living person. The western response to this is far more accepting. The general views on assisted dying, euthanasia drawing up wills is symptomatic of their laid back views as regards the subject.
It appears from the foregoing that most in western society are emotionally insulated judging by their muted emotional response, however the argument could be advanced like a friend inferred for an "efficient and guarded emotional display in stark contrast to the African justification drenched in the inherently social and emotional ostentation.
Bunmi Olaniyan lives and works as a software testing Analyst in West Midlands Uk and tweets from @bunmola2010