Entry #6: A Cameroon Funeral

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December 8, 2013

Much has happened since my last post. I’ve eaten cow intestines, grasshoppers, and chicken gizzards, I’ve been sick (not related to the food), Cameroon beat Tunisia to qualify for the world cup, and I’ve celebrated my first ex-pat Thanksgiving.  My immune system has since recovered and the longing for pumpkin pie has been replaced by daydreams of Christmas cookies and eggnog.

Two weeks ago I attended the funeral of the uncle of one of the people I met while working in the lab.  The deceased was a very well liked nurse who worked at the hospital for 25 years, and as such, a huge portion of Njinikom turned out for the funeral.  It began as all funerals here do, with a procession from the mortuary to the church.  It’s less than a mile walk and the car that bears the casket blares music over its loudspeaker and is usually flanked by a dozen or so motorbikes that are adorned with branches from a certain tree that grows here.  Men are invariably stoic while many of the women wail in exaggerated fashion to honor the deceased.  Once at the church, we gathered around for a little ceremony in which the priest welcomed the procession into the church.  Augustine, my friend from the lab, and I did not attend the mass.  Instead we went with a group of other male relatives to a bar just across the street from the church for several hours while the mass was held.  It seemed strange to me with the mass just across the street that the bar was packed with many other friends and relatives, and that the drink of choice was Guinness.  This, coupled with the friendliness of the people and frequency of rain, has led me to believe that Cameroon is the “Ireland” of Africa.

After mass, the procession continued to the man’s house where the burial took place.  The crowd seemed endless, which leads me to believe that nearly the entire village was present.  Once at the man’s compound, people gathered for drinks and singing and dancing, and a group of men played instruments while another group shot off their guns.  Many people brought blankets to pile in front of the coffin as gifts, while the deceased’s clothes and possessions were distributed among his extended family.  As the body was lowered into the ground, a group of traditional ju-ju dancers clothed in costumes and masks danced among the crowd and performed a ritual over the grave in which, among other things, they plucked the feathers from live chickens and scattered them over the grave. As a group of young men covered the grave and packed in the soil with their feet, the bikes from the procession raced around the compound doing donuts in the dirt.   After the burial, people went back to their own neighborhoods and had dinner at the house of a relative of the deceased who lived nearest to him.  In the quarter where I live called Atulah, fu-fu, jama-jama, and beer was provided by Augustine and his family.  People who attend typically give a small cash donation in exchange for the hospitality.  By the time dinner was over, it had gotten dark and lighting from a storm cloud was drawing near so I took my leave and walked home.


Ju-Ju Dancer

About the author: Drew Fink is a graduate of University of Wisconsin where he was a pre-med student. He travelled to Cameroon to do a 3 month internship at the St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Njinikom.

The hospital is managed by MFH in-country partner Sr. Xaveria Ntenmusi and the Tertisary Sisters of St. Francis – Cameroon. These are entries from Drew’s journal about his experiences in Cameroon.