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Honoring Loved Ones Through Black Funeral Customs

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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, families around the world have said countless goodbyes to loved ones, friends, and relatives. Due to pandemic restrictions, many couldn’t hold proper funerals and now long for ways to honor their deceased relatives in a deep and meaningful way. 

 

Some plan to hold celebration-of-life services, others will hold homegoing services even though their loved one is already buried. Finally, many families are looking for unique traditions that pay homage to their culture, tradition, and heritage. 

 

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African-American and global Black cultures provide funeral traditions that are rich with meaning, depth, and history. From Ghana to Jamaica to Africans living in America, there are many funeral traditions to pull from to give honor to the loved ones we’ve lost. Here is a glimpse into the ways Black communities can celebrate their loved ones by incorporating funeral traditions that bring them honor.

Ghanan Funeral Traditions

As you already know, funerals are a big deal in Ghana. Depending on where someone is from, you’ll see different funeral traditions on display.  Here are several.

Ashanti funeral customs

The Ashanti tribe is the largest in Ghana. They make up almost half of the country’s population.

 

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In the Ashanti culture, a person’s death and burial are important to the entire community. The family plays a role in preparing the body before and after death. After the funeral, the most important funeral festivities begin. Family, friends, and acquaintances were present to commemorate the departure of the human soul to Okra, the ancestral world.

 

During the celebrations, the Ashanti chiefs are present to take part. The deceased’s family members wear red and black, with the mean wearing black cloths over their shoulders. On arrival, traditional greetings are given, after which dancing and celebration begin.

Mole-Dagbon funeral customs

The Dagomba people make up the second-largest tribe in Ghana. Funerals vary according to the place of the person in their family and their position in the tribal hierarchy.

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Dagomba’s culture is just as closely tied to the religion of Islam as African spirituality, so you can experience the themes of Islam and spiritualism in Dagomba funerals. The Dagomba culture maintains an active connection with ancestors. Traditionally, ancestors are believed to be close by and observe the living. At funerals, the deceased are thought to observe the festivities.

 

Fante funeral customs

The most striking differences between Fanta funeral customs and Western funerals come from the fact that the people of Fante practice matrilineal tradition. In Fante tribal culture, a family’s lineage follows the mother’s family. Only members of the mother are considered to be close members of the family. As such, many peoples’ spouses and children have very little involvement with funeral planning when compared to the person’s mother’s family.

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The size of the funeral also matters. A member of the Fante tribe who is deeply respected and loved will often receive a funeral that is lavish and long. You’ll witness traditions such as drumming and even theatrical performances.

Black Funerals in the United States

African funerals aren’t limited to Africa. Thriving immigrant communities have brought African funeral customs and traditions to the United States for centuries. Some traditions have changed over the years, but you’ll see traditions like these on display when families want to honor loved ones who have African-American or global Black roots.

Popular songs and traditional music

Traditional music plays an important role in many African cultures. This continues to be true in America, as the music connects them to their roots, traditions, and culture. African-American spirituals are sung by many families who trace their roots to the early days of America. Drums might get used to provide entertainment, expression, and tell ancient stories about life and death. Gospel hymns are also commonly used to express the person’s faith and hope in eternal life.

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Elaborate or fancy coffins

One of the most famous funeral customs in Ghana is the production of fantasy coffins. Professional coffin makers carve and paint detailed coffins in the shape of objects loved by the deceased in life. While this isn’t as popular in America, what is popular is lavish and expensive coffins. The expense is not seen as a negative thing, but rather is an opportunity to celebrate and honor family members.

 

Several famous members of the Black community in America have been buried in Promethean gold-plated caskets. Aretha Franklin and James Brown, two of the most influential singers/songwriters were both given burials in these gold-plated caskets.

Funeral colors

It is traditional for many Black families to wear specific colors or traditional clothing during funerals. Wearing clothing that represents their heritage is one way families can pay homage to their history, culture, and African roots.

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Just as common, you’ll find that many Black families choose a different set of traditional mourning clothes such as black suits and white shirts for the men, and black dresses for the women.

Eulogies from family members and friends

Multiple eulogies are given in honor of the deceased by family members, religious figures, influential figures, and friends. Sometimes an honored guest, family member, or close friend will speak multiple times in honor of the deceased.

 

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Sharing a speech or eulogy on behalf of a loved one or friend gives the community the opportunity to honor and praise the deceased for the ways they impacted the world around them. No funeral would be complete without multiple eulogies and speeches acknowledging the impact of the deceased.

 

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