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The Lost Ceremony

By: Mkokoogona Inkosi Bvumbwe – with The TheChief Mourner

The continuity that extends across cultures suggests that funerals are not only to provide solace for the living, but also to assure that ritual, attention and honor are respectfully, ethnically and appropriately given to the deceased.

The human tool of mourning is double edged. We mourn not to weep at death itself but rather to celebrate the life of the deceased. This is the celebration that is totally different from the usual aimless chatter we are used to giving when a person is alive. It is totally a different thing altogether. This is why for the most part the procession is punctuated with pockets of silence as we head to the grave we so popularly call “Kuli Chete.”

‘The funeral represents a near universal response to a universal situation. In the enormous variety of funeral practices, each funeral rite affords the comfort of tradition in its own place,’ commented Habenstein and Lamers in a book titled Funerals (1974).

However, in anthropological terms, there are cultural universals that have remained consistent in funeral services: announcing the death, care of the deceased, a method of disposition, a possible ceremony or ritual, and some form of memorialization.

But now that the ten days of mourning the esteemed Justice Manyungwa are slipping into history, we have to ask: should the unexpected outburst of emotion that led to the declaration of important life truths be ignored or dismissed simply as the idle mumblings of a bereaved chief? Should the anger that welled up in Amai’s bosom change our traditional view of funerals and the sacrosanct traditional consensus that funerals are not political events? Even in the wake of an apparent albeit temporary resuscitation of the Kwacha and the apparent optimism is has brought, What does Amai’s castigation of the traditional custodian of morals tell us about the relationship between the Palace and the people it claims to serve?

It might sound absurd, to interpret a funeral in terms of emotion. But ever since we heard Amai’s outburst, we have been reminded that the constitutional order of this country depends on public emotion rather than reason. ‘So long as the human heart is strong and the human reason weak,’ wrote Walter Bagehot, ‘Republics will tend to be weak because they appeal to the understanding instead of appealing to feeling’.
Bagehot was trying to analyse the English public’s fascination with Queen Victoria and the wayward Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

Much of his analysis holds good for Malawi today. At each public of Amai’s public events, perhaps believing this philosophy, her supporters have played for public excitement and sympathy: whether by the demonizing of oppositions figures and declaring blatantly that politics is about character assassination, or in the latest fiasco distributing political campaign T-shirts at a funeral.

Yet the last two weeks seem to contradict the hand-clappers’ view of politics as the great appealer to emotion and feeling only. The lost funeral Ceremony of the High Court judge, and the approval that followed the truths dispensed by the young T/A Bvumbwe serves to remind everyone of the hanged in political paradigm from feelings to intelligence and understanding, from exploitation to partnership.

The lost funeral ceremony of the judge had obvious relevance to younger people or to the new generation of Malawians who want to hold their politicians to a higher standard and ideal than has heretofore been the case. This is the generation of Malawians that needs to be included in the planning of this country’s future and this generation is not impressed by foul-mouthed demagogues and emotional but empty-headed leaders who see graveyards and cemeteries as political podiums.

The public interest in the young Chief’s denunciation of Amai’s behaviour cannot be dismissed simply as petulant behavior from a youth under the influence of alcohol, or simply as a last tribute to an institution swiftly losing its place and significance in society. The fact that the young was later threatened with death and had to run for his dear life for a while and the overwhelming support and popularity he received for his troubles speaks volumes of the people’s feelings towards Amai’s loss of the plot.

The fearless rebuke of the government from a strong-minded Traditional Authority gives more scope for younger generations; and the image of the PP operatives handing out Orange T-shirts at a funeral was as powerful as the metaphor it represented- of a party already conducting its own funeral rituals.

The sacredness of the ceremony may have been lost, but let no Malawian lose the significance of the Metaphor, and the power of the young chief’s words. The new Malawian will not be taken for granted, and will certainly not allow old political no brainers to play the old game of emotions over intelligence.

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