Similar to the concept of a wake, in Jamaica (and other parts of the Caribbean), there is a funerary tradition known as the “Nine Nights,” or “Nine-Night,” in which the family and friends of a person who has died gather to celebrate the life of their loved one. It typically takes place from the night after the family member has died until the night before their burial. One main difference between the two types of ceremonies is that many Jamaicans believe that after a death, the spirit, or “duppy,” of the deceased person stays in the area for a time. This is because, according to legend, the spirit takes nine nights to rest and find peace.
During the period of celebration, food is brought and music is played, and on the ninth night, a table is set up with food especially for the departed family member. No one may eat from this table until after midnight, when it is believed that the spirit of the dead has passed through. White tablecloths are often used to signify purity. On this final night, friends and family bid farewell to the duppy; after this the spirit is believed to have passed from this world. Another common practice is to turn up the mattress of the loved one and place it against a wall to prevent the spirit from coming back. This is done not out of malice, but because family members feel a responsibility to help their loved one find their final resting place, so that he or she can be at peace. It’s a positive ceremony, and it allows family and friends to express their love for the departed and say their goodbyes.