Wailing and grief

I was awakened very early this morning by an eerie cacophony of sound. I could not at first place it. Although groggy with sleep, I suddenly realized what it was, and what it meant. Someone in the village had died. Indeed, the death was in our family compound, a young boy I learned later. The sounds were the wailing of the extended family members, particularly the women. Grief had stricken our village.

In the morning, I quietly asked Alice about it. The person who died was a relative, a young boy, Nasiru, who was about 16 years. He was going to school. He was in grade 4. Nasiru was Alice’s uncle's grandson. Alice’s uncle had died many years ago, when Alice was a young girl, as had her own father. But her uncle's male children (her cousins), now also married with children, have always remained in the extended family compound.

Nasiru had been sick for some time. He had recently returned from the Baptist Medical Center in Nalerigu. No one seems to know what his illness was. The hospitals here do not often explain the medical diagnosis in the local language. “His stomach was swollen”.  He had oedema, which spread to his limbs. We suspect liver problems. Nasiru’s condition declined rapidly after he was discharged from hospital.

He was only in Grade 4 because the primary school in our village, Bongbini only opened recently, and despite his being much older than the other kids in his class, Nasiru wanted to be educated.

All the men of our compound sat outside, on the logs under the tree, in grief, and to receive visitors offering condolences. The women stayed within the compound, by the Nasiru’s body, continuing to wail, but more quietly.

After breakfast in our room, Alice told me that we could not go out to our office. Custom is that no one goes to farm, or to work, until after the burial. She and I would need to remain in our room within the compound or join the mourners.

Preparations are being made for the burial. The animist or traditional customs prevail, but the Imam or Moslem prayer leader will also be called upon to perform ceremonies. There are adherents to all three religious traditions in Bongbini, indeed, even in our extended family compound (Traditional/Animist, Christian, and Moslem). Islam seems to fit better with the traditional religion

Nasiru died in a family member’s arms. All through the night, his immediate family were with him. This is also customary. Had he not died in someone’s arms, all sorts of other special ceremonies for “purification” would need to have been done. People feel it’s important to provide care to a dying person in this physical way, as they slip from this life into the world of the ancestors. If not, compensatory ceremonies are designed to assuage both the person who died alone, and the ancestors.

As people start to visit our compound to offer condolences, Alice quickly advises me that I need to learn the complementary greetings, used on a day when someone has died. The ubiquitous common morning greetings are not appropriate. “Dasuba” , “Te masim”, and “I sa gbisi wula”, need to be complemented by “ni ti fara”. Not sure yet what this means, (I’ll find out later) but when I utter these words, it seems appreciated by the dozens of people I’ve greeted so far this morning.

The quiet sobbing and wailing continues. As friends and relatives in neighboring villages learn the news, they will travel here to Bongbini to offer sympathy. The arrival of visitors will provoke fresh outbursts. The rise and fall of the wailing will continue to be heard throughout the day.

The burial is done…Alice and I take our leave.

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