By Chanakila Muyunda
A Nation without a culture is lost, a people without culture seize to have an identity. It is important that all Zambians come to realise this truth. As Zambians we have a way of doing things, we have an established way of handling different facets of life. One of these areas is the death of a spouse. How do you deal with the death of a spouse? What can you do when your spouse dies? What is the Christian way of understanding this devastating event? Is it business as usual after the loss of a spouse? What do people expect? What does the culture demand?
As a servant of God and citizen of Zambia, I have been saddened by the strong abusive language and at the same time approve the strong constructive reaction from the people regarding the candidature for presidency of the former first Lady, Dr. Christine Kaseba.
Yes, it is her democratic right! This strong reaction is not that the people are against her, no, it’s rooted in the cultural and Christian beliefs of the people regarding the established cultural norms of the people of Zambia.
It should not be mistaken as an issue of men unwilling to allow women to lead. This reaction is about the timing! The Christian way of understanding the loss of a spouse is rooted in the Jewish culture.
Mostly the Zambian culture recognises the same stages as well. There are mainly four stages to the mourning process of a spouse: The laws of mourning a spouse described below are incumbent upon the remaining spouse. The Wife or Husband, all the others like the son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother, relatives, friends form the more outer circle of mourning according to their degree of relation to the deceased. Let me now show you clearly why the people who called upon/advised /encouraged/behind the former first Lady, Dr. Christine Kaseba Sata’s bid for a presidential race have not been more thoughtful. Let me share with you why the people are shocked, let me share with you why she should immediately pull out, and let me share with you why it will even be more traumatizing for our great people in the villages if she goes and become adopted candidate for the PF.
The four stages of mourning the spouse are: 1) Pre-burial mourning: This is the first, most intense period of mourning a spouse, it is the period between the death and the burial. This period is characterized by a numbing, paralyzing grief. During this period, the first degree relatives’ all-consuming concern are the funeral and burial arrangements, to the extent that they are not expected to go for usual work. In other cultures people tear their clothes as a sign of grief and their sages instruct, “do not comfort the mourner during the time that his deceased lies still unburied before him/her.”
At this point, the grief is too intense for any effort at consolation. It is a time to simply be with the mourner and offer practical assistance, rather than words of consolation. It is a time of silence, not words. You would recall that it was during this period when the acting president fired his colleague and was surprised by the immediate strong reaction both from within and outside the country, forcing him to rescind the decision within 24hrs. 2). The second stage is the seven day period following the burial: It begins after the burial, and extends to the morning of the seventh day. The distinguishing feature is that the spouse take an almost complete break from the routines and involvements of everyday life to focus exclusively on the memory of the departed and the manner in which they will honor him or her in their lives, and receive consolation from their extended family, friends, and the community. 3). The third stage is the 30-day mourning period. Even as the spouse resumes his or her everyday routine after the seven day period, certain mourning practices, such as not purchasing or wearing new clothes, cutting one’s hair, enjoying music or other form of entertainment, and participating in joyous events (weddings, etc.), are continued for a period of thirty days, beginning from the day of the burial. It is during this period that Dr. Christine Kaseba Sata is stepping into the presidential race. It’s not right and does not go well with the people no matter how powerful need is. 4). The fourth stage is the months up to the first Year: It’s an extension of the 30-day mourning period excerpt this time there is more freedom for the spouse to do what they want but with moderation and prudence. This means that the spouse in mourning conducts oneself in a moderate way.
These phases provides a framework to channel and express our grief over the loss of a loved one, from the intense grief, to the seclusion, break from routine, and receiving of condolence to the subsequent resumption of everyday life whilst continuing certain mourning practices during the six months and the First Year. In the Zambian culture it is important to meticulously observe these guidelines; it is equally important that they not be exceeded. At times, the mourner may not consciously feel the degree or type of grief and mourning these rituals convey; other times, he or she may not feel prepared to “move on” to the next, lesser phase of mourning. Yet the wisdom of adhering to the observances and timetables established by the tradition has been attested to time and again by anyone who, God forbid, undergoes this process. The Zambian culture unwritten mourning laws provide the outlet and validation for our grief so crucial to the healing process, as well as the framework to graduate from one level of mourning to another, until our loss is integrated as a constructive, and not, God forbid, destructive, force in our lives. But the traditional mourning practices are not only about us and how we deal with our grief. They are, first and foremost, about the person whom we mourn. The mourning and memorializing rituals mandated by the Zambian Tradition empower us with the spiritual tools with which to honor the departed soul and assist in our healing process.
FR. CHANAKILA MUYUNDA
SANTA CROCE UNIVERSITY, ROME, ITALY