Revolutionary Speaking – President’s Weekly Column – Volume 1 Issue 16

Vol 1: Issue 16
20 January 2023
Recently, I attended the funeral of a young man who died under a hail of bullets by faceless assassins.   In keeping with old and obsolete traditions, the bereaved family directed women to remain at home at the end of the funeral and not take part in the burial at the graveyard.
You should have seen the disappointment of many women who travelled from distant places to pay their last respects to the deceased.  They had attended the funeral, and hopefully the burial, to express their love by seeing the deceased off.  Observing the coffin sinking as it is swallowed into the bowels of Mother Earth is a special emotional moment that affords some people some kind of closure.  Of course, it is a painful moment in which some mourners cry inconsolably.  It is exactly that poignant moment and sobbing that is believed to help in relieving the emotional pain.
Put yourself in the shoes of the wife, mother and sisters of the deceased young man who, under these circumstances, are seldom allowed to accompany the deceased to his or her final resting place.  That part is reserved for men and their sons.  At least, these immediate relatives would be given space to visit the grave the following day to see where their relative is buried.  Spare a thought for the women who travelled long distances only to learn that they will travel back without having seen the grave of their deceased friend.
Perhaps that makes no difference in this era of cremation where the mourners don’t go beyond the funeral service.  In fact, in some of the religions of the Black people, cremation is the integral part of a funeral.  Because Black people are not necessarily homogenous when it comes to matters of spirituality, millions of Black people still attach spiritual importance to mortal remains or bones of the deceased and the grave.  Consider that the various types of diviners are believed to be harbouring some spirit of an ancestor who died long time ago.  That is why it is not uncommon of a diviner to throw some bones on the floor when they go about their engagement.  There is belief that there is a connection between the bones and the spirit.
The barring of women from burial services was in keeping with the old tradition that women would not take part in the burial of a person(s) who died under tragic circumstances like gun shots, stab wounds or car accident.  Except for war circumstances, tragic deaths were quite rare in such peaceful circumstances of the Afrikan way of life where there were no guns and no cars.  The presence of axes and knives were seldom used to attack and kill fellow human beings.  At some stage in history, the people lived under some measure of communal life under monarchical governance.  Poverty was not rife.  Where there was some, there were values and practices of sharing like “inkomo yenqoma” or “kgomo ya mafisa”, by means of which the needy family could be lent a cow to milk and use until such time the owner came to fetch it.  If the cow gave birth to a female calf while in the custody of the needy person, the cow’s owner would leave that calf with the needy person on the occasion of fetching his cow.  There was law, order, peace, sharing and mutual respect among the people.
Women were generally respected and treated with dignity in these Afrikan communities.  To the extent that there were no surnames in these communities, people were primarily addressed by their clan names.  Accordingly, a woman married into the family of a man retained her clan name.  If there was a cultural ceremony, reference would always have to be made to both the clan name of the man, and that of the woman.  It was this respect of women by Afrikan societies that initially brought about the barring of women from the burial of persons who died of tragic circumstances.  The keeping of women from attending these particular burials was not meant to undermine or oppress women.  As explained above, death by tragedies was quite rare in those communities.  Even war, was associated with men.  It was therefore something to be expected that a man could at some time die tragically.  By this reasoning, the possibility of a tragic death was restricted to men.  However, women were to be protected against the bad omen of tragic death.
We may add that we now know that the myths and taboos related to menstruation are foreign to the Afrikan way of life, which was predominantly matriarchal.  Anna Druet (2021) reminds us how Afrikan societies had a positive relationship with menstruation.  She mentions the Mbendjele and the Mbuti people in Central Africa as an example.  The Mbuti people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have their menstruating women gathering in a big grass hut not to be undermined or abused, but to be treated like queens.  They are relieved of work and have their fellow women cooking for them and spoiling them.  In this regard, a woman was considered powerful and deserving of respect when under menstruation.  Druet has dug deeper and cited ancient Egyptian medical texts like the Kahun Gynecological papyrus (1800BCE) and the papyrus Ebers (1500BCE) in which menstruation is viewed as a form of “purification”.  Says Druet: “Menstruation in these texts, is seen positively.  Cures for amenorrhea are offered, and menstrual blood is used as an ingredient in ointments, like one for saggy breasts”.
Back to the matter of tragic death.  The families were so protected against this phenomenon that the body of the deceased would not even be brought into the house or the yard.  From the place of death or mortuary, it would be taken straight to the grave and be buried by men, who were less protected by virtue of their proneness to tragic death.  They also had to conduct some cleansing rituals before they returned home to ensure that they were not returning home with the bad omen.
By this small effort, one is persuading royal families and the Afrikans in general to review and discard some of the engendered practices that have lost their original meaning and purpose to the extent that they have now become discriminatory, prejudicial and oppressive.  This is raised within the context that culture is dynamic and changes with time and circumstances.  Everywhere there is a cultural ceremony in some sections of the Black community, you will be told about the importance of brandy in communicating with the ancestors, while gin is said to have some spiritual importance for the diviners.  Yet brandy and gin were introduced in South Africa in the late 17th century.  Even umqombothi (sorghum beer), which is now somehow associated with isiXhosa-speaking people was introduced to the Eastern Cape by our people called amaHlubi (or amaMfengu, to be specific).  Before that, “amasi” (sour milk) was used without both umqombothi and brandy.
Granted this background, who says some of the customs and traditions cannot change to be consistent with Women’s Liberation in the context of anti-patriarchy and anti-sexism?  Gender egalitarianism is both a principle and value that Azanians should bring about in all the spheres of life of the people.  There can be no One People in One Azania if there are misogynous practices that prevail in these generally progressive times.