The Burden Caused By Traditional Funerals Processions On The Bereaved

On Tuesday, my landlord who took me in when I was still a wide-eyed teenager a few years back passed away after ailing for some time. Although he had not been feeling well for almost 2 years hitherto his eventual passing, his death was sudden and arrangements had to be made to ensure that the burial would take place over the weekend.

After a passing, Botswana culture dictates that every day prior to the funeral, the family has to make preparations for what is known as "merapelo" which are essentially evening services held as a form of mourning and show of condolence for the deceased and the bereaved family.

Every day after the conclusion of the services, the family has to provide refreshments for the mourners. On the day of the burial, the family also has to provide food for the community which attended the burial service—whose numbers are always in the hundreds.

Just from the costs associated with merapelo and the burial, it starts to become apparent that funerals in Botswana are quite expensive. When one factors in other costs like the tent and chairs hire as well as the coffin, the bill shoots into the tens of thousands and this is before the family has acquired the death certificate and is able to make claims from insurance companies so all these costs have to be settled from the family's pockets.

Most of my landlord's family were from South Africa as well as other far-flung places in Botswana so when he passed on, they had to process his passing, travel to Tlokweng and also make plans on how the funeral would be conducted and financed—all at the same time.

As much as culture and tradition are vital to the upkeep of the identity of a people, sometimes it is best to change or adjust the established way of doing things in order to accommodate modern problems. To me, although merapelo goes a long way in showing unity and solidarity with the bereaved during a dark time— in its current format— it is causing the bereaved families more headaches in addition to those caused by the passing of a loved one.

It gets worse if the person who passed on was a breadwinner for the family because then they would have to worry about not only how they are going to survive without the deceased but how they are also going to afford to give them what society deems a "decent" funeral which involves feeding multitudes of people over a period of a week or longer.

To strike a balance between keeping the tradition of merapelo and cutting back the funeral expenses incurred by the bereaved family, would it not be better for mourners to contribute some money every day they attend merapelo and the burial? In this way, the family could be able to afford to give the deceased a communal funeral without having to break the bank.

Like our first president Seretse Khama once said, "a nation without a culture is a lost nation". It is therefore important for us to keep our tradition of mourning in solidarity with the family but at the same time, we must understand that nowadays everything—including funeral arrangements— is expensive so it is better to show this solidarity and unity in more useful and practical ways like contributing towards settling the funeral bill and not just coming to sing and leave with a full stomach whilst the already mourning family is left to deal with the loss of a loved one and the bills that come with it.

Death of a loved one on its own already takes quite an emotional toll on those remaining behind so it is high time we adopt a culture that is going to make it easy for the bereaved to get through that loss instead of keeping archaic traditions which do nothing but add onto the stress that families are already going through.