Uganda’s Banyankole Tribe’s Death and Burial Traditions

Today we explore some of the unique death and burial traditions of the Banyankole tribe in southwestern Uganda
Banyankole tribe gathering during mourning

Credit: www.govisitkenya.com/banyankole-people.html

Contrary to many cultures, the Banyankole tribe, who reside in Ankole in southwestern Uganda, traditionally believed that death did not occur naturally but rather through methods of sorcery, scourge or spite. Therefore, when people died, their loved ones, wanting to know exactly who was to blame, would take the bodies to witch doctors to solve the mysteries. The only exception to this disbelief that death occurs naturally is those members who die of old age, because the Banyankole believe that God is responsible for their deaths since he has allowed them sufficient time to complete their lives on Earth.

For anyone who fails to attend, suspicion will arise for that person’s possible involvement with the death.

The Banyankole await the attendance of every significant family member before burials happen. For anyone who fails to attend, suspicion will arise for that person’s possible involvement with the death. Before the burial, loved ones wash the body and close the eyes of the person who has died. During burials, bodies are always placed in the ground facing east. What side the body is laid into the ground depends on one’s gender. Men’s bodies lie on their right sides with their right hands placed under the head and their left hands on their chest. In order for her to face her husband, a woman’s body is positioned to lie on her left side. For anyone who has died and might have had a grudge against someone prior to his or her death, those burying the bodies would also bury objects for the spirits to keep them occupied enough that they would not haunt the unfortunate victims of their grudges.

Ankole cattle

Ankole cattle
(Credit: kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com)

The mourning period lasts for four days. During this time, at least one cow gets slaughtered to feed all the mourners who have gathered and beer is provided. All the mourners stay and sleep at the home of the person who has died. Due to a belief that a hailstorm will happen and ruin crops, everyone is forbidden from performing any manual labor during the mourning period.

To eradicate any further misfortune, families of people who commit suicide must rip out the affected tree and burn it.

Suicide, however, is a completely different matter. None of the standard traditions occur and several superstitions exist. The grave for someone who commits suicide is dug right under the tree where the body hangs. This is so when the cutting down happens, the body will fall directly into the hole. The only person allowed to cut down the body is a woman who has already undergone menopause because the Banyankole believe the person who cuts the body down will die not long afterwards. No mourning period or funeral occurs. To eradicate any further misfortune, families of people who commit suicide must rip out the affected tree and burn it. They are also banned from using any of the tree’s wood for fires.

Posted in Cultural Perspectives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



The Funeral That Took 530 Years

A king of England is getting a proper burial for the first time this week
King Richard III

Credit: Wikipedia.org

He died in 1485, but King Richard III is finally getting his own funeral. It took 530 years after his death in battle for the former ruler to have a proper burial.

The king’s story is an unusual one. In 2012, a group of investigators dug up a parking lot in Leicester, believing it to be the site of Richard III’s remains. The former king was described as having a hunchback from his deformed spine, so investigators were on the lookout for a deformed skeleton buried deep under the site.

They found a misshapen skeleton resting under the concrete, and DNA analysis confirmed the skeleton belonged to King Richard III.

Why was a king of England found buried under a parking lot?

Well, Richard III had a lot of enemies. Although he only ruled for about two years, in that short time, he managed to gain a reputation as a cold-blooded murderer.

Here’s what happened: Richard’s brother King Edward IV died in 1483, leaving Edward’s eldest son Edward V as the next in line for the crown. The 12-year-old Edward V and his younger brother traveled to the Tower of London, where they were to await Edward’s coronation as king. The boy’s hopes were shattered when it was revealed that his parents’ marriage wasn’t valid. He couldn’t be crowned king of England.

Richard III was the next in line after the boys to take the crown. After he accepted the throne, his nephews were never seen again. Many assumed Richard III had them killed.

Just a few months after he took his place as king, Richard III defended himself against a massive rebellion of Edward IV’s supporters. In 1485, Henry Tudor led another rebellion against Richard III, killing the king in battle.

Thousands of people viewed his death as a victory. In fact, they had his body stripped naked and displayed in public for weeks after his death. His body was buried in Leicester without a funeral service. A monument marking his grave was later destroyed in the 1500s.

Centuries passed as buildings were erected on top of the burial site. Eventually, a parking lot was built over Richard III’s grave, long after knowledge of his burial site had been lost with history.

Richard III's memorial marker

Credit: Dave Crosby

For his funeral this week, a hearse carried Richard III through Leicestershire in an oak coffin. His skeleton will be buried in Leicester Cathedral on March 26.

His story proves that history is not often kind, and that even kings can rest in unmarked graves, with no one to mourn over their bodies.

While the Tudor family and even William Shakespeare painted Richard III as a villain, historians aren’t sure if he earned his fearsome reputation. Some historians say Richard III was actually an enlightened king who was the victim of cruel rumors and prejudices against his medical condition. Others say there’s little doubt he had something to do with the deaths of his nephews, who also never received a proper burial.

Burial rights seem unimportant until we consider the impact they have on one’s standing in society. For the King of England to receive no funeral would have meant he wasn’t worthy of one. In this way, Richard III’s burial this week reinstates his importance in England’s history.

Posted in Something Special | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beautiful Memorial Music: “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day

This mournful song acts as a reminder to cherish our loved ones while we have them
A Green Day

Credit: Wikipedia

The iconic modern-punk band Green Day is no stranger to writing and performing mournful and nostalgic ballads. As we’ve seen before, their early song, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” has served as an inspiration to many who play it at graduations, funerals and any other celebration that serves as a turning point for life. So it’s no wonder that “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is one of their most recognized singles off of their 2005 album, American Idiot.

Just as summer turns into fall, the passing of a loved one is the passing of an era, where pleasant memories become cherished treasures.

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” arguably has the most layered symbolism on their album. The song itself was written by Billie Joe Armstrong about the father that he lost as a child in September of 1982. The mournful opening lines, “Summer has come and passed/The innocent can never last,” tell us an all-too-common story of how dark and gloomy you can feel after a loved one has passed away. Just as summer turns into fall, the passing of a loved one is the passing of an era, where pleasant memories become cherished treasures.

It can become dangerously easy to check out in times of strife and choose to let life pass you by in hopes of letting the pain subside.

The titular phrase, “Wake me up when September ends,” also harks to how grief can quickly turn into depression at the loss of a beloved friend or family member. It can become dangerously easy to check out in times of strife and choose to let life pass you by in hopes of letting the pain subside. In many cases, survivors do end up ‘checking out’ in these times of grief, until their pain can be processed and more easily managed and understood.

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” shows us that we are not alone in our grief.

While this song focuses solely on how the pain of loss can alter your life, there is an underlying unity to the song as well. Just as Armstrong’s father passed away in September, so too did many of the people in the 9/11 attacks of 2001. This song, which references the 9th month, and holds the place of the 11th track on the album, is an homage to the friends and families that had to deal with the pain of surviving their loved ones. In this light, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” shows us that we are not alone in our grief. Though it may be strong, others will be there with us to experience the same pain, and perhaps make us stronger for it.

Find the lyrics here.

Watch the video here:

Posted in A Right of Passage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates the most beautiful hearts in an ongoing celebration of love

Winter 3_edited copy

You will Endlessly Sparkle In My Heart

It’s an honor for SevenPonds to share with our readers the story of the Monday Hearts for Madalene project, a true account of the power of love in the midst of death.

The project’s origins take us to 2005: the moment Page Hodel encountered Madalene Rodriguez and fell “instantly, dizzyingly in love with her.” The couple’s first meeting was electric, and Page felt inspired to do something unique for the woman who captured her heart. So, she began leaving handmade hearts – made from flowers, leaves, and other materials – on Madalene’s doorstep.  The hearts became a ritual, and they were there to greet Madalene as she left for work every Monday.

“To start her week with a visual reminder of our beautiful love.” – Page Hodel

Just seven months later, Madalene was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away on June 20th, 2006. But Page’s love for her hasn’t ceased, and she continues to make a heart for her every Monday in celebration of her life.

If you would like, you can also receive Page’s “Monday Hearts for Madalene” by emailing her at page.hodel@gmail.com with “subscribe” written as the subject. Images of the hearts can also be purchased on individual cards and in her beautifully compiled book, Monday Hearts for Madelene. Please also visit her website and Facebook  page. A portion of all sales will go to the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, California (www.wcrc.org).

See more Monday Hearts for Madalene here.

Posted in Hearts for Madeline | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seeking Solace in the Landscape

Memory, visibility and healing at the National AIDS Memorial Grove
National AIDS Memorial Grove

Entering the grove
(Credit: savetheredwoods.org)

Landscape is so central to how we see and move through the world that it is often easily overlooked. When we perceive nature as wild and untouched, we seek solace in the vibrant forces at play, finding our lives dwarfed by the larger movements of the universe. When a landscape is highly manipulated, we can either pass over and dismiss the aestheticized surface of the design or settle into a deeper meaning with and through it.

In moving through this landscape, the landscape moves you.

Landscape touches us as we touch it; it has the power to grab us in one moment and swirl us into another frame of mind as we move our bodies through it. It can do this subtly, or suddenly. The National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco manages to do both. The memorial is a powerful national monument that provides a space for healing and remembering the lives impacted by AIDS. In moving through this landscape, the landscape moves you.

National AIDS Memorial Grove founders

The group that founded the memorial gathers in 1988
(Credit: leslielohman.org)

The memorial is set in a rhododendron dell that was revitalized in the late 1980s by a group of San Franciscans looking for a public way to express their collective grief as AIDS ripped through the community. To access the memorial, you drop down into a small valley, passing through the Circle of Friends – a stone circle made by the carved names of people whose lives were (and are) impacted by or lost to AIDS.

Circle of Friends at the AIDS Memorial Grove

Circle of Friends
(Credit: quazoo.com)

The political is embedded in the personal, and the Circle of Friends sets an intimate tone for the personal experience of this disease and the larger memorial. Names are still being added to the circle (carved in once a year, in observance of World AIDS Day, on December 1st), and the additions help fund the care of the grove. In this way, the circle grows and ripples out endlessly. The circle of friends makes visible the impact this disease has had on the public and — importantly — the public is named.

So we walk, continuing down the path as it meanders through large redwood trees down into the dell. Light flickers through the trees, the wind slows and stills — then moves again. A quiet moment stirred. We follow the winding path and see smaller remembrances and memorials, either formal stones carved with names or small gatherings of flowers and rocks arranged in ad hoc altars tucked into the forest floor.

Altar at the National AIDS Memorial Grove

Credit: aids.about.com

You are an individual moving through space, connecting with individual lives lived and lost. You move deeper, still.

You are embraced by the valley, soothed as you move through grief, sharing the common experience of loss and the utter devastation this disease has wreaked on lives; a devastation compounded by the complex politics involved. The political is never directly addressed. Individuals are so they are never forgotten, nor is the continual fight against the pandemic.

Once at the bottom of the valley, a large meadow opens into light. Down here it is quiet. The soaring redwoods muffle the sounds of the city and the public park. The slice of the valley deadens the urban noise, and all around you is lush, thumping green life. The trees urge you to look up and see the wide expanse of sky above (which is likely foggy – this is San Francisco after all).

Memorial circle

A circle gathers in the meadow
(Credit: kpbs.org)

You settle into this embrace, into the light afforded by the meadow. You sit in and with loss, the cut of the valley echoing the void of grieving someone you love. There is space here.

When you are ready to move again, there are 10 acres to explore, numerous stories and lives and loves to be imagined. Slowly you can return to the top of the grove and exit the memorial, internally moved by the landscape.

By carving a public space for memory and visibility of the AIDS pandemic, the loss of life, the grief and the lives of those still living with AIDS are continually brought to the surface, brought to the light. The gash is slowly healed, but never forgotten.

Posted in Soulful Expressions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



Our Weekly Tip: Creating Space

Using circles to help embody community in memorial services and life celebrations
Creating Space with rock circle

Credit: mymodernmet.com

Our Tip of the Week: When we think of traditional funerals and memorial services, the vision that often comes to mind is rows of seated people facing an altar. This follows the same layout of most church and temple services, where the anointed perform their religious duty during times of transition. The person providing the service and eulogy, whether clergy, family or friend, is often slightly raised above the audience. This creates a visual distinction between the audience and the ritual performance.

Some people may find that this traditional layout meets their needs, but there are other forms of creating a ritual space for a memorial or end-of-life celebration that don’t follow any specific tradition and create a more egalitarian, shared and intimate space.

Ritual circle gathering

Credit: charlescity.org

Circles in particular allow for a ritual that is more about participation rather than observation. The attendees contribute to the space-making, their bodies marking the boundaries of the formed communal space.

The circle has the additional benefit of allowing people to see each other, and share in their grief and reflections together, potentially providing a medium for more people to offer their feelings or stories about the loved one whose life is being celebrated.

Circles don’t have to be hokey, or hocus-pocus, to create a meaningful affect. They are a natural form of gathering that has been with us far longer than any other ritualized performance, and despite their closed ends, they are open to multiple personal interpretations.

A circle can be incorporated into any part of a service, formal or informal, and builds a healing sense of community by gathering and cultivating shared experience, especially potent during times of loss and grief.

How-to Suggestion: Mark the boundary of the circle with a lovely ribbon or flower petals, and set up an altar in the center with photographs, candles or objects that reflect the person you are celebrating. Add a few chairs for people who may want to, or need to, sit down. Or create a circle entirely out of chairs.

Perennial ring circle

Credit: Leaves.co.vu

If a single circle feels too close, you can set up a second ring around the outside, allowing people to choose their spot according to comfort level.

If you have a memorial service outside on your own property, plant a ring of perennials and enjoy the re-blooming each season. You can also mark a circle with rocks, creating as complex or simple of a pattern as desired.

A circle can be incorporated into any part of a service, formal or informal, and builds a healing sense of community by gathering and cultivating shared experience, especially potent during times of loss and grief.

Posted in Practical Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment