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Book source: Two Evenings in Saramaka, Richard Price and Sally Price, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1991. ISBN 0-226-68062-2.

Subject: [Customs, Traditons] A Saramaccaner Funeral


Day 1- Along the Suriname River in a jungle village, an old Saramaccaner woman died from a stroke. She is placed tightly wrapped in her hammock in a temporary funeral house. Only head and feet are exposed. Other family members and villagers are notified.

Day 2- Family members arrive at the funeral house and hold speeches. They cut the bottom out of an old canoe to serve as a proxy coffin. Family members go to an ancestor shrine to alert the ancestors that there has been a death. Others are heating water for washing the corpse ceremony. There are some delicate ritual dances as part of the funeral rites. After washing the corpse, it is dressed in home woven cotton garments from breechcloth to seven or eight layers of skirts and capes.

Day 3- Some thirty men have arrived to construct the coffin. The wood for the coffin is contributed by visitors and kinsmen. It takes many hours before the coffin takes shape as it is given decorative touches. Then the coffin is carried to the funeral house. The corpse is placed in the coffin with more ceremonies and taken outside where it is nailed shut. The coffin is walked all around the village. Houses where people are sick are avoided. The coffin is then placed back in the funeral house.

Day 4- Speeches are held about the three major responsibilities when death occurs such as: washing the corpse, making the coffin and digging the grave. The young men will do the grave digging outside the village.

Day 5- The grave diggers prepare to leave the village to start the digging. However, they cook and eat a meal first before setting out for their canoe. When they do leave there is a lot of hooting and holloring and beating of a drum. They carry also a live hen and rooster to the grave site.

Day 6- The final day of grave digging. There is more singing and eating. Then the family ask the corpse if she is ready to go.

Day 7- The women are busy to keep the gravediggers supplied with food. This day the belongings of the deceased are distributed to family and relatives. Later in the evening there is more singing and dancing.

Day 8- It is burial day. In the late morning a few grave diggers check if the grave site has not caved in from the rain and there is no water in the grave. The coffin is brought out the funeral house. They touch the coffin three times to the ground and carry it around the village and the village ancestor shrines. The final prayers of separation from the village are spoken when the coffin is loaded in a canoe. A gun is fired in the air and about 15 men in four canoes set out to bring the coffin to the grave site. The village is quiet now and that evening the villagers begin to tell tales of the departed who now is put to rest.

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