“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together”
Desmond Tutu’s quote spoke to me as I reflected upon my experiences within the Shoshong Village and the Mahalapye District Hospital. Connected- as human beings- this unconscious bond creates the astonishing power of community.
Part One- Shoshong Village Community
Only a few weeks after my arrival in Botswana, I had the opportunity to attend a funeral in the rural village of Shoshong. A friend from the village notified me of the traditional significance of funerals in Botswana and suggested I attend. Eager to learn more about the culture I accepted the invitation and experienced a traditional Botswana funeral.
Held on Saturdays, funerals are much more than a single event, but is an entire week of community support. Seven days of coming together to provide emotional healing to the departed’s friends and family is at the foundation of this Botswana tradition. The community also assists in the financial expense and meal preparation. Each night throughout the week of mourning, the family’s yard is filled with songs and prayers. Family, friends, and community members camp in the yard to participate in the grieving process and to help with funeral preparation. Depending on the family’s economical status, cattle are slaughtered to provide the meat for the meal provided after the ceremony (the wealthier the family the more cattle are available for food). The eve before the funeral is spent with constant praying and singing; with the ceremony beginning around 4 or 5am.
Of course I didn’t arrive quite that early, but I wasn’t the only one walking in late, as there was a continual flow of people into the yard. I was impressed with the amount of people in attendance from such a small village (population anywhere from 5,000-10,000…. No one is sure of exactly how many countryside rondavels1 consider themselves members of the Shoshong village). Needless to say this community is spread out, but that didn’t stop them; via walking, donkey carts, cars, or combis2 … they appeared… the village of Shoshong. By the steady entrance of people traveling from near and far to show their support, one could gather this was more than a Botswana tradition- this was existence.
With all of the struggles and challenges this cultured faced, the people of Botswana stuck together and survived. They propelled each other through life and they became a stronger and more resilient community. The Shoshong village taught me more than the traditional aspects of Botswana funerals; they reminded me of the power of community. The development of technology and fast-pace of the western world, the concept of community is often forgotten. Thankful for this lesson- I left the village of Shoshong that evening feeling a bit stronger and more connected to the culture.
1. traditional house of Southern Africa- usually one room and made of local raw materials such as clay, soil, and cow dung with a thatched roof
2. minibus/taxi used throughout Botswana