The Mafulu eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about The Mafulu.

The black mourning face, and sometimes body-staining is then adopted by all the people of the community, and perhaps also by chiefs from other communities who have been friends of the dead chief.  The special string necklace worn by the nearest relative and the other family emblems of mourning are the same as in the case of an ordinary person, except that the chiefs widow will probably also wear the special mourning network vest already described, and that the mourning shell necklace, which in the case of an ordinary man is only worn by distant relatives, is worn by all the married men and women of the clan who have or can procure it.

The subsequent ceremony and feast are in this case held one or two days after the funeral, the acceleration in the case of a chief being necessary in consequence of the retention of the corpse above ground and the foul smell which immediately begins to emanate from it.  This feast is on a very large scale, though here again only one community is invited.  The guests enter the village just as they do in the case of the death of an ordinary person; but they are all specially well decorated, and the one guest who comes in full dancing ornaments will certainly be a chief, or at least a chiefs son.  The subsequent part of the ceremony, up to the removal of the head feather ornament from the dancer, is the same; but this removal is done by the nearest male relative of the deceased chief, who will probably be the person to whom the chieftainship has descended.  Then follows the feast itself.  The vegetables and village pigs for the feast are provided by the whole clan, and are in very large quantities.  No platform of sticks is placed on the grave, the grave in this case not being underground; but the banana leaves are placed around (not under) the supports of the burial platform, or around the trunk of the burial tree.  The pigs are killed upon these banana leaves by the pig-killer and his helpers, and the killed pigs are then placed in circles around the platform or tree, and are there cut up.  The distribution of food and pig’s flesh is made by the chiefs nearest male relative, with assistance, here again the special dancer getting the largest share, and the ceremony is then over, and the guests return to their villages.

And now a true desertion of the village by its inhabitants takes place, as indeed is necessary, as the putrefying body is becoming so offensive; and it will be at least two or three weeks before the emission of the smells is over.  The villagers all go off into the bush, with the exception of two unhappy men, more or less close relatives of the dead chief, who have to remain in the village.  Whilst there alone they are well ornamented, though not in their full dancing decoration, but in particular, though not themselves chiefs, they wear on their heads the cassowary feathers which are the distinctive decoration of a chief, and they carry their spears.  There they remain amidst the awful stench of the decomposing body and all the mess and smell of the pigs’ blood and garbage about the village.  It is a curious fact that, in speaking of these two men, the natives do not speak of them as watching over the body of the chief, but as watching over the blood of the killed pigs.

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The Mafulu from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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