Saturday, July 17, 2010
I did not know Rose. I had never met her, yet I attended her funeral this morning. All I know of Rose is that she was 25 years old and left 3 young children for her mother to care for. As is the Swazi tradition, she was laid to her final rest at sun up. We arrived at her remote homestead in the predawn hours just as the men were moving her narrow wooden casket from her home and placing it in back of a pick up truck. We fell in line with the other mourners and followed on foot as the truck bounced along the rutted dirt road around the hillside to the primitive burial ground. The procession sang the now familiar strains of the African hymns, and though I did not understand the words one could not mistake the sentiment of the plaintiff refrains. We walked in darkness until at last we reached our destination, a steep hillside littered with unmarked stone mounds, each one representing a perished soul. The men pulled Rose’s casket from the bed of the truck and made their way down the steep incline and placed it by the freshly dug grave. I made my way to the bottom of the hill and looked up at the gathered mourners, now numbering nearly 100, their faces turned skyward and their voices continuing the ancient cadence, as the braking dawn gave a muted light to the scene. As Rose’s casket was lowered into the ground the first true rays of the morning sun fell upon the hillside. Her mother,children, brothers and sisters took turns ceremoniously tossing a handful of dirt into the grave. The singing continued as the men from the community got to the real work of burying their dead. After the last shovel of dirt was placed and the last stone was positioned, the preacher read from the bible and then a representative from the family addressed those gathered. He departed from his native tongue to acknowledge our presence. He said our coming brought the bereaved family honor and comfort. From my stance at the bottom of the hill I could now plainly see the faces of the mourners in the morning sun. I was taken by what I perceived as a numbness on their countenances. No tears, no sobs, just blank stares from those who have repeated this ritual far too many times. And then it was over. They turned and left. I stayed behind for just a moment and now in the full morning sun beheld the entire mountain side literally crowded with stone covered mounds. And now a new one, that of Rose. I did not know Rose. I had never met her, yet I attended her funeral this morning.