Appeasing the dead to make your living family happy

29 April 2019 - 08:20
By thabiso mahlape AND Thabiso Mahlape
Image: 123RF/oneinchpunch

I arrived in Johannesburg the year I turned 17. I was eager and ready to learn.

Of the many things I learnt that year was how the Zion Chrisitan Church would impact the rest of my life.

Travelling to Limpopo during the Easter holidays does not cater to one's whims and fancies; it is an exercise in avoiding the traffic to Moria.

And that is what I did two weekends ago with my daughter in tow. She had to miss school so that we would drive to Seshego, Polokwane, when only the dawn would be our witness.

Though I am not a big fan of the trip, I do it because the Mahlape clan has an Easter ritual. We meet early on Easter Sunday morning to visit the graves of loved ones.

We start at a cemetery near Lebowakgomo, referred to as GaLedwaba, where my eldest aunt was laid to rest. We gather around the gravesite and kneel.

I haven't knelt in a long time; I am too fat to be kneeling at gravesites, besides there are other types of kneeling I rather prefer.

My eldest uncle, who is the family patriarch, leads us in the ritual of greeting the departed, telling them we have remembered them yet again this year, and that we have come to show our love.

We then visit the grave of my cousin's baby that died shortly after birth.

We then proceed to Moletlane, Zebediela, where our roots lie, our ancestoral home as I like to call it.

The cemetery close to our house is full.

This cemetery is a stressful place, at least for me.

There are a lot of people buried there and the sun is unforgiving on Sunday mornings at this time of the year. Despite my stress and the blistering heat, we lay wreaths on the graves.

The order at which we lay wreaths is determined by the departed family member's importance, rank and proximity to those still living.

After the visits, we make our way to an uncle or aunt's house for lunch and fermented beverages.

Some of my family members noticed my discomfort and they were shocked that I was not enjoying the gathering.

It is laborious and admin intense, especially when we are hosting lunch as we did this year.

So, why do I participate in this ritual?

I am my father's daughter and my participation in this ritual is important to my family.

I know some people who do not get along with their families, or if they do, the relationship is strained. I feel for them.

When I look at my father with his siblings, I remember what family looks like; a representation of the people you belong to above everything else.

As I navigated the Moria traffic this year, I was reminded, as I am each year, of how important it is to have your people.