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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Aunt Rema's Burial

Jamaican funerals in rural areas are not unique, but they seem to happen less frequently in other countries in the region, and in the urban areas of Jamaica are being 'outlawed' in their traditional form. That tradition calls for the burial to be done on your own land. But government wants people to use designated burial grounds. I am not going to enter into that debate. But it has its parallels in attempts to stop people giving birth at home and insisting that this only occur in hospitals.

As I joined my maternal family in their piece of St. Elizabeth that we now call ours--it was not always so as we were moved by bauxite companies so that the national good could be served--I relished the fact that the tradition is still firmly rooted. It makes a burial very special and the love that people have of a departed person seems so much stronger and sincere when almost everything takes place around that person's previous home.

I was surprised how few people cried for my aunt, but then again the nature of the burial has so much to do with a real passage to better things that tears of regret are not so common. We are going on to where we are destined to go. We are upset to lose our family and friends and when my six year old asked me what happens after the body goes into the ground,it's hard to hold back the lump forming in my throat. But it stayed small. I don't have a problem crying and I sobbed a little as the last shovels of concrete were put onto the tomb. I walked away at that point of finality and knew that I would see my aunt no more. I had to go back to the grave later, to see it calmly,free from people and noise and then I could have my true moment of grief, and I shed not one tear.

video

But, now I have tears inside for the living persons whom I have to see go away. Those cousins, aunts, uncles, who have known me for years and those cousins whom I had never seen before, are now again going back to their lives--mainly in Jamaica--and we may not meet again till another funeral. We do not celebrate births in the same way. Some I will stay in touch with as we have done the modern thing and exchanged phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Facebook account details, BlackBerry messenger contacts. We are all know to each other already as our names have been passed around for years by our parents and other relatives. I saw so many people who knew me but who I did not know or recognize. I met a man who seemed related to me but we were both unsure how, except that his family and mine come from around a place named Nain.

I was also thrilled to see one of my uncles, who is hailed by the nickname "Teacher", because he is and now was, and he has taken his school from little no-count to little but talawah. One of his pupils was a 10 year-old niece and as she talked to me, she showed what kind of Principal he had been. As soon as I sensed a hint (it was really small) of disrespect for an adult, and called her over, she said "Yes, sir." My guard dropped and I said that we did not need to discuss the matter because she clearly knew what to do normally. I heard stories of how the school yard clears if he now visits again: No one wants to incur his 'wrath' or see his discipline in action. It was on display in organizing the burial and the food after the funeral: "Do not send out any more food. Just follow instructions! Everyone who comes MUST eat. Hear me?" There was a collectively unspoken "Yes, Teacher."

Personalities were less in evidence on the day of the funeral, but food was as big a part as ever. No loud music was needed to lift spirits and no spirits were needed to lift bodies.God was doing all the lifting needed. We wrapped our bodies around more cups of manish water. We folded our stomach around lovely boxes of curried goat and rice. We licked our fingers after eating more fried chicken and rice and peas.

One of my cousins, had had plans for after the funeral church service that involved his going to watch his old high school play football and then a 'lunch' instead of going to the burial. I could not understand how the football stayed on the agenda. That's between him and his aunt. But, it did make me ponder how we set priorities. The team won. Would have won without him watching too. I hope the football team are there in good numbers for him when the day comes--they probably will be. I know that they play several games each month. The 'lunch' never happened. Those of us who stayed for the internment ate heartily. We even went to see some sick relatives afterwards to share with them the pictures and videos that I had. There will only be one funeral for this aunt.

One of my tenets is to do in daylight what has to be done with light, other things can be done at night.

Bob Marley had the right take on many things:

Forget your troubles and dance,
Forget your sorrows and dance,
Forget your sickness and dance,
Forget your weakness and dance

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