Funeral Culture: AIDS, Work, and Cultural Change in an African Kingdom

Funeral Culture: AIDS, Work, and Cultural Change in an African Kingdom

Funeral Culture: AIDS, Work, and Cultural Change in an African Kingdom

Funeral Culture: AIDS, Work, and Cultural Change in an African Kingdom

Synopsis

Contemporary forms of living and dying in Swaziland cannot be understood apart from the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to anthropologist Casey Golomski. In Africa's last absolute monarchy, the story of 15 years of global collaboration in treatment and intervention is also one of ordinary people facing the work of caring for the sick and dying and burying the dead. Golomski's ethnography shows how AIDS posed challenging questions about the value of life, culture, and materiality to drive new forms and practices for funerals. Many of these forms and practices―newly catered funeral feasts, an expanded market for life insurance, and the kingdom's first crematorium―are now conspicuous across the landscape and culturally disruptive in a highly traditionalist setting. This powerful and original account details how these new matters of death, dying, and funerals have become entrenched in peoples' everyday lives and become part of a quest to create dignity in the wake of a devastating epidemic.

Excerpt

Inside an inky copy of the Swazi Observer, one of the two newspapers in the Kingdom of Swaziland, the op-eds are just before the obituaries. Some op-eds are inspirational and others cheeky, as in one series called “Societal Scales” by Mr. Dumisa Dlamini, about the ways women and men don’t get along. “Does a Man Love His Car More Than His First Lady?” (2007) and “The Forgotten, Deserted, Infected but Loyal Bride” (2015) are some colorful titles in his series. One article I read online in 2006 called “Those Tears, Roses and Messages at Men’s Funerals” (November 18) stood out because of its take on “culture”:

Life is just a precious gift to mankind whose value can never be quantified.
Whosoever is alive is treasured by lots and lots of people even if they were
not to come out openly whilst (s)he is alive to tell him…. a man has this
manner of bringing a balance within the relationships he has established
with these people close to his heart…. Whilst he breathes he has made his
person, love and third leg [penis] very useful somewhere beyond the param
eters of his marriage…. Societal Scales has always had it that men are never
neat in their intimate dealings and much of this untidiness is exposed just
when the fella has breathed his last. Here is this new culture of funerals being
extended beyond the family and publicised so that friends, acquaintances
and relatives could be informed of the demise of the man. Hardly in the
body the family is prepared for the shock that comes with funerals. Whilst
all would be grieved and sore at heart, at times you would be shocked at the
flood of tears, the bunch of roses and heap of messages from the mourners.
(emphasis added)

Dlamini goes on to write about women getting angry or embarrassed at their husbands’ funerals when it comes out that the men had extramarital lovers. the lovers’ identities are supposedly revealed when they show up with gifts such as flowers and personal condolences printed on small cards. “Here is the biggest bunch from Mandy with love and narrating all the good times she has spent with the deceased and their beautiful daughter,” he writes, describing how the man’s widow would start, “wailing in shock that her husband of many years has sired bastards outside the holy matrimony. Had it not been for the flowers, nobody would have heard of the clandestine affair.” in this account, flowers, cards, and ambiguities surrounding the event lay the groundwork for what, in passing . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.