Nelson Mandela passed away on Thursday at the age of 95.
Nelson Mandela passed away on Thursday at the age of 95.

Cow’s bellow to signal ancestral acceptance

By SILUSAPHO NYANDA Time of article published Dec 6, 2013

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A “cow of accompaniment” would be slaughtered early on the morning of former president Nelson Mandela’s burial in accordance with Xhosa culture, an anthropology professor said.

Traditionally, the ox would be the favourite from the deceased’s herd, said Walter Sisulu University anthropology professor, Masilo Lamla.

He said the most important step would be the slaughter of the “cow of accompaniment” – an ox chosen by the deceased. He said the ox would have been chosen from the deceased’s herd of cows and would have been his personal favourite when he was still alive.

Lamla said the ox was usually slaughtered in the morning by a recognised slaughterer, who might not be a family member. The cow must be slaughtered in the kraal and it “must bellow as a sign that the ancestors have accepted it”.

Lamla said before the body enters the home it is addressed by family elders who welcome it home, even though there is a difference in opinion in some Xhosa circles as to the traditional rites.

Lamla said some people slaughter goats when they welcome the body.

Another important ritual was the “washing of the spades”. The ritual is performed seven days after the funeral and unlike the “cow of accompaniment” there is no meat served but there is home-made beer.

“The cleansing of the spade marks the completion of the funeral,” he said.

The spades would be the ones used for digging the grave and were kept until the ceremony where they were “washed” with the home-made beer. He said this was to cleanse death off the tools.

Lamla said even though times had changed people still followed tradition because “custom is prescriptive and not following it is risking bad luck”.

A day after the funeral the widow goes through the ceremony of “wearing mourning attire” – black. This would be done by the older women of the family who would then advise the widow on the conduct expected of her. These were things such as not talking loudly and being involved in squabbles, Lamla said.

The widow would be told never to enter the homestead’s kraal for as long she was still wearing the mourning attire.

“In the traditional Xhosa funeral there would be no singing but things have changed with the arrival of Christians in Africa,” Lamla said.

He said the mourning attire had to be worn for a year and removed with another ceremony.

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