Tata’s burial ritual explained

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Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo


AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo. File photo: Sumaya Hisham

Mthatha - According to AbaThembu custom, Nelson Mandela’s traditional burial will happen in several phases – a process that can take up to a decade before his spirit is finally “brought back” as an ancestor.

The AbaThembu royal house and the Eastern Cape Department of Local Government and Traditional Affairs have detailed the mourning and burial customs of AbaThembu, of which Madiba is a member and a royal chief.

Eastern Cape Local Government and Traditional Affairs MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane said one of the first things when an individual died, was an announcement by the family to the community so that it could support them during their bereavement.

“The dead are regarded as ancestors and are treated with great respect, as they are believed to have a special relationship with the living,” said Auoboshiyane.

“The fact that AbaThembu still follow proper rites and ceremonies following the death of a loved one reflects this belief.”

Before the funeral took place, the furniture in the main house was taken out and women of the dead person’s family cleaned the home where the dead person had been living, he said.

AbaThembu have traditionally used their homestead as a final resting place where their dead are buried, as in Madiba’s case. This is followed by a period of strict mourning for the family.

There are other rituals that follow when the head of a household dies like “umkhapho” and “umbuyiso”.

The umkhapho ritual is to accompany the spirits of the dead person to the ancestors.

At the end of the mourning period, the widow’s clothes are taken off and burned, and women gather round the widow and bring her new clothes.

“This is called ukhulula izila (which means take off mourning clothing). The buttons which were worn by the bereaved family are also burnt,” said Qoboshiyane.

The AbaThembu also follow the ritual of umbuyiso which literally means to “bring back” the spirit of the dead.

This is when it is believed that the person who died has now become an ancestor to protect the family.

Chief Mfundo Bhovulengwe Mtirara, spokesman for the AbaThembu royal house and Madiba’s nephew, said when Mandela died he was in Joburg and his spirit would have to be brought to Qunu, his final resting place.

“After the body is underground, the king (Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo) is going to lead the men to ukukhahlela (praise) and after that, we will wash our hands.

“After a week, there will be a ceremony where we are going to wash the spades and picks used in the digging of the grave and where there will be traditional beer,” said Mtirara.

Anytime after the mourning phase, there will be another ceremony or umbuyiso, he said.

“It can be five years, it can be 10 years, we bring him back,” said Mtirara.

In terms of catering, this would be the responsibility of the state, since it’s an official state funeral,” he said.

“Before the burial, we will slaughter a beast to accept the body when it arrives. I’m not sure if there will any additional meat required for the funeral,” he said.

Madiba will be buried on Sunday alongside his children at his home in Qunu.

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