Like everything else, Jamaicans add their flavour to rituals, festivals and celebrations. In some parts of Jamaica, the rituals surrounding death are more extravagant than life celebrations. After the death of a loved one, family, friends and acquaintances come together to mourn. Most funerals, particularly those in rural Jamaica, are not held immediately. Part of the reason is to allow family members from abroad to visit and keep the tradition.
The traditional events following death usually include:
- Grave Digging
On the ninth-night after the deceased’s passing, the mourning family hosts a “Nine-night”. In the past, these gatherings were calm and reserved. Loved ones and well-wishers usually prayed for the bereaved family, sing songs, play board games and eat together. However, this tradition has become modernised. Today, these gatherings are more similar to parties than they are to wakes.
Several days after death, a burial site is identified, and preparations for making the grave begins. Community members and relatives come together to help dig and build the grave, which is typically on a family plot. Grave diggings are mid-day events often accompanied by music, food and drink. It isn’t unusual for a grave-digging to be bigger than a funeral. People often attend to pay their respects, offer help and then generally eat, drink and be merry. Like nine-nights, grave diggings are not sombre events but opportunities to rejoice and celebrate life.
Play the video below for a time-lapse of a grave-digging we recently attended:
After the funeral and committal service, there is a final gathering. This comes in the form of a repass. This is a meal where mourners gather and collectively share their sorrow—traditional dishes such as curried goat, fried chicken, rice and peas and mannish water.
The celebrations of life after death can be “extravagant and drawn-out”. What do you think? Should we keep up the tradition, or should we use the resources otherwise? What other way can we honour the dead? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. “Come share, celebrate, boast and debate our Jamaican culture with us.”