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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Things that make you say, "huh??"

To live in a new and different culture successfully it helps to work diligently to learn about the customs and practices of the people whose country or region you are living in.  This was true when we moved from Ontario, Canada to Georgia, USA.  While we might look the same, culturally it was a huge change for us and one that required study and understanding.

Moving to Swaziland is much the same, but different.  Just when I think I have heard it all, I am smacked up the side of the head as a new cultural practice is explained to me.  Last week I had one of those conversations that made me say, “huh??”  Today I will do my best to share it with you.

Swazi culture is steeped in tradition including many that include Traditional Healers/Medicine Men or what we might call Witch Doctors.   Last week a friend of mine was called to the funeral of the woman whom her husband’s brother had been living with for eight years. Typically funerals here start in the evening and include an all night Vigil filled with many things I won’t talk about in this blog.  In the wee hours of the morning the actual funeral takes place and the burial happens as the sun comes up.

My friend (who shall remain nameless) planned to skip the Night Vigil and arrive at the funeral at 5AM.  At the last minute she was told that she must arrive at 3AM because there was to be a wedding first.   The man wanted the woman to be buried in his homestead (part of a Chiefdom) and because they had never married (either legally or traditionally) there had to be a wedding between the dead woman and the live man or else she could not be buried there by traditional Swazi law.

Also as a part of Swazi culture, the younger sister of the dead woman was to step in to her place as “wife” after the marriage ceremony took place to the deceased.  The grooms’ family had to meet with the “bride’s” (still the deceased) family and negotiate the Lobola (the number of cows the family would require for the bride … who is now dead).  Once that negotiation took place and several cows were brought in as a down payment they proceeded with the wedding ceremony with the coffin and the groom present. 

Meanwhile, the younger sister cries out and laments the woes of getting married, on behalf of her dead sister (traditional weddings require the bride to cry out loud because she is being married.  My friend further explained that since the bride was dead “someone had to cry” so the sister did the crying on behalf of the dead bride). 

After the wedding ceremony finishes, the funeral continues and the wife of the man is buried in the family homestead. After the burial is finished the sister of the deceased, who is now the wife of the widower, then stays at the homestead with her new husband.  After I asked a million questions that resulted in some nervous laughter and a million answers the thing I was the most perplexed about was that Christian Pastors participate in these ceremonies alongside the Traditional Healers.  Why?  The answer I was given was because if the Traditional Marriage didn’t happen then the burial could not continue, so the Christian Pastor is there for the first ceremony so that he can perform the second ceremony.  I will do some follow up on this one with some of our local Pastors to get their “take” on it. 

On a side note, my friend was “fined” by the family of the deceased for not wearing the appropriate Swazi clothing (her Swazi wedding dress made with goat skin etc) and had to pay the fine of a live goat to those whom she offended.

The more I learn, the less I know.

1-week old Luke.
In other news … we got three new babies this week. Luke was born on August 6th and abandoned by his mother in the hospital.  Malachi is 18-months old and severely malnourished.  His drunkard mother would leave him alone all day and night locked in a room by himself. He also arrived with a present … chicken pox!  So he moved directly in to the infirmary and is enjoying one-on-one time with one of the few Aunty’s who has had chicken pox. (Sadly, this same Aunty is the one whose house burned to the ground only a few short days ago). 

18-month old Malachi.
The third baby was born on May 26th 2014 and she has been named Michelle in memory of my friend Teri McClure’s sister-in-law who passed away in 2006.  This baby’s mother and Grandmother are severely mentally disabled and have no way to care for the baby.   As ‘fate’ would have it, Michelle McClure was also mentally disabled and after being raped she found out that she had contracted HIV/AIDS.  Before her death her heart’s desire was to go to Africa.  Sadly she passed away before that was possible, but the family came in her stead and now Baby Michelle is a living reminder of another Michelle’s life.  I am thankful that Teri and her daughter Morgan were here to be extra hands and loving arms this week as we welcomed babies #65, 66 and 67 to their home on Project Canaan.

A plaque in memory of Michelle McClure is on the El Rofi Medical Centre.
2-month old Michelle.
Live from Swaziland … you can’t make this stuff up.


PS - if you want to help us feed and clothe these new babies on a monthly basis please sign up to be a Heart for Africa ANGEL today.

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