Sunday morning we received a phone call from our branch Relief Society President, Sister Nomsa Nteyi) informing us that her 88 year old father had passed away Saturday. He was not a member of the church. He is part of the Xhosa tribe. (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are both from the Xhosa Tribe) He had two wives, both who have preceded him in death. From the two wives he had fourteen children.
We went to our three hour meeting block. It was raining on Sunday, so attendance was poor. We combined the Gospel Essential Class and Sunday School classes. President Wheeler taught them because the teachers did not show up. We also combined the Aaronic and Melchezidek Priesthood and the Young Women and Relief Society. After church the members were lingering a little longer than normal in the chapel. They were speaking Xhosa so I could not understand, but I just like to be with them so I just sat and waited. I saw one of the members pull out a piece of paper and begin to write a little devotional type of program. Opening song, prayer, speakers, etc. They asked me what I thought an appropriate hymn would be. I asked, "A hymn? What for?". They then explained to me what was happening.
There are many rituals that occur when someone passes. Prayer circles are held by many different religions. Our branch was planning a prayer circle. It is tradition for the Xhosa people to express sympathy in the following way.
We all piled in to four cars and drove to Nomsa's father's home. When we arrived we entered a room which had completely been stripped. Nothing on the walls and new linoleum and been laid down. We stood until Nomsa and her brothers and sisters came in. Brother Nobebe took charge. We sang an opening hymn, had a prayer, there were three speakers, and then a closing song and prayer. The service was performed in the Xhosa language and so I did not understand. I was told after that the three speakers bore testimony of our beliefs. All in all the service lasted about 30 minutes. We shook hands with members of the family and left. I was told that this would be repeated by different denominations throughout the coming 12 days of mourning.
Nomsa's father lived in the location in a little compound with homes similar to this.
Because he had two wives there were three of four homes on it that were similar to this one. One of the homes was converted in to a kitchen. Over the next 12 days of mourning they will have family and friends come to stay and eat. And I mean eat. They will cook, and cook, and cook.
Xhosa people believe the departed continue to live in the beyond. Early on the day of the funeral, an ox is slaughtered in prep for the "ukukhapha". The men cook the meat with no spices, outside in boiling water. The meat must then be eaten outside the house. The ritual is intended to help the spirit to the beyond so the deceased can return as an ancestral spirit later. During the days leading up to the funeral, elders will have been in constant communion with ancestral spirits, preparing the way for the deceased to be accepted into the beyond. Death is a highly sacred occurrence in Xhosa culture.
Xhosa men preparing to slaughter the ox.
This was our first experience with a death and Xhosa tradition. Interesting.