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Originally published December 14, 2013 at 5:58 PM | Page modified December 14, 2013 at 6:58 PM

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Tribal rituals will lay Mandela to rest

The week of memorial events for Nelson Mandela has not been without missteps and embarrassing headlines, and retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu provided the latest drama.


The New York Times

Burial traditions

The funeral Sunday for Nelson Mandela will be a mix of rituals from the tradition of the Xhosa people, to whom Mandela’s clan belongs, with Christian elements and those of a state funeral.

A look at the Xhosa people’s burial traditions:

Talking to the body: Xhosa culture requires a family elder to stay with Mandela’s body and explain to his spirit what is happening. “When the body lies there, the spirit is still alive,” said the Rev. Wesley Mabuza, chairman of South Africa’s Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the right of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. “The body must be informed of whatever is happening before the funeral,” said Nokuzola Mndende, director of the Icamagu Institute for traditional religions. The body must rest for one night in the family house before the burial. “On Sunday he must then be told, ‘Madiba, we are now burying you,’ ” she said.

Leopard skin: The deceased must be wrapped in a special garment. For people of a high rank like Mandela, the son of a clan chief, the body or the casket is usually wrapped in a leopard’s skin, according to Mndende. “But because Madiba is also a former statesman, maybe there will also be the South African flag,” she said.

Slaughtered ox: Xhosa tradition requires the slaughtering of an animal early the day of the burial. After the ritual throat slitting, the animal will be eaten by the mourners, usually outside the family house. For people of a high rank like Mandela, an ox will be killed, Mndende said.

End of mourning: A year after the burial, another ox will be slaughtered and eaten by the family to mark the end of the mourning period, in a tradition called Ukuzila. About a year after that, a joyous ceremony is celebrated to bring back the deceased into the family so that the person will henceforth be looking over the family and its children as a well-meaning ancestor, a ritual called Ukubuyisa, Mndende said.

The Associated Press

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MTHATHA, South Africa — Thousands of mourners lined the streets here to bid a raucous, heartfelt farewell to Nelson Mandela, the former president whose body arrived in Mthatha in his native Eastern Cape province Saturday ahead of a state funeral and burial Sunday.

“Madiba, yo, my president!” people sang, referring to Mandela by his clan name, as they waited for his hearse to pass, hoping to catch one last glimpse of South Africa’s first black president. It whooshed by moments later, amid cheers and songs of lamentation, the flag-draped coffin visible through the thick panes of the Mercedes van that carried it to Qunu, the village where Mandela grew up and the place where he will be buried.

The body of Mandela was flown from Pretoria, South Africa, after an emotional ceremony in which the military handed over the body of Mandela to the African National Congress (ANC), the party he led to victory in 1994, ending white rule.

“We are sending you back to Qunu,” President Jacob Zuma said. “We hope you rest in peace.”

Zuma, who for much of the service sat between Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, and Mandela’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was better received by the select audience than he was by the much larger crowd at a public memorial Tuesday, when he was booed. He has come under increasing scrutiny for his leadership of the party amid allegations of corruption in connection with a $20 million renovation of his private home, paid for with government money.

Zuma led the ANC crowd in singing “Senzeni Na,” a mournful song from the fight against apartheid.

“What have we done?” he sang. “Our sin is blackness. Our sin is the truth. They are killing us. Let Africa return.”

The week of memorial events for Mandela, who died Dec. 5 at age 95, has not been without missteps and embarrassing headlines. A man who stood a few feet from President Obama and other dignitaries at the stadium memorial in Soweto purporting to be a sign-language interpreter turned out not to be qualified for the job and was said to be suffering from serious mental illness.

Tutu not invited?

Then on Saturday, Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop, said he had canceled plans to attend the funeral of Mandela, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, after learning that his name was not on the list of accredited guests. Tutu has been critical of the ANC in recent years over issues such as corruption, police brutality and growing inequality.

“Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would be disrespectful to Tata to gate-crash what was billed as a private family funeral,” Tutu said in a statement, referring to Mandela by one of his many honorific nicknames. “Had I been informed I was invited, there’s no way on Earth I would have missed it.”

Government officials said Tutu, 82, was on the list of accredited guests but had chosen not to attend. He was not on the list of clergy members invited to speak at the state funeral.

But late Saturday, a spokesman for Tutu said the archbishop would be traveling to Qunu for the funeral.

Welcoming crowd

In Mthatha, residents tried to see Mandela a final time as his cortège drove by.

“He is our father; we must welcome him home,” said Boneka Mpopoma, 48, a schoolteacher who walked several miles from her village to join the throng in paying tribute. She said that in the Xhosa culture, it was essential to be buried in the land of your ancestors.

“You must bury him where he was born,” Mpopoma said. “He must rest with his father’s fathers.”

It is not customary to issue invitations for a funeral in the Xhosa tradition, village elders said, because everyone is welcome. But others expressed frustration that they would not be permitted to attend Mandela’s funeral.

“We are very disappointed that they didn’t let us see him,” said Sibongiseni Hloma, a clerk in the courts. “In our culture, funerals are for the whole community. Nobody is invited because everyone is invited.”

Nomanono Molletye, 61, who came out to greet the motorcade, said Mandela, who hated the fussy world of VIPs and protocol, would not have approved of the exclusion of ordinary people from his funeral.

“Madiba always treated everybody the same,” Molletye said. “There were no VIPs to him.”

The state funeral will be held Sunday with extremely tight security under a vast domed marquee constructed for the occasion in the hills adjacent to the house that Mandela built in Qunu. Security officers in plain clothes scolded a man near the security cordon when he took out his cellphone to take a picture of the distant funeral site. If he took the picture, an official said, the officers would confiscate his phone.

Thousands of guests will be shuttled by bus to the event, and a number of heads of state and other prominent people will attend, including the presidents of several neighboring countries, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Prince Charles of Britain.

The state funeral will be televised, and Mandela will be buried in a private ceremony for the family shortly afterward, the government said.



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