By Jacob Pardo (‘23)
Before I explain the specifics of the Mohabe funerary tradition, I must remind readers to treat the culture with an open mind; the religious views of the tribe are rather underdeveloped, and they are simply trying to treat their dead as is respectful according to their beliefs. To Christian readers, the practices may be shocking, almost scandalous; however, I will implore readers to imagine themselves in the Mohabe’s adolescent point of view, imagining how we might treat our loved ones with a more naive sense of spirituality.
We lost an elder yesterday: Mohoka, mother of Ida and Shoke (now passed), grandmother of Harube, Dena, and Lonka, the last living great-grandmother of our tribe. Well loved in our community, Mohoka taught generations of youth, her mind a living history of our people. A comforting guide, Mohoka had always open arms to those who were struggling, food for the hungry, herbs for the sick, and a bed for the tired. There is not one here today who has not been touched by her life. Death is always tragic, but Mohoka’s passing leaves a hole that will never truly be filled — the loss of her wisdom may be the greatest of all. It is imperative that we honor her in death, so that her spirit may live on through us.
On this occasion, the Mohabe were honoring the death of an elderly woman, who seemed to be a respected priestess in the tribe. A female-led religion may sound unnatural, but remember that the Mohabe have only the instinctual association between birth and femininity; they do not know of Biblical creation. The funeral began with a preparation of the body, as it was decorated with local flowers and beads. Then began a kind of raucous chanting; lacking in any dignified hymns to send off their dead, the Mohabe instead engage in a kind of frenzied shout. In this practice, the Mohabe communicate their grief and sadness through a primal precursor to singing, joining in incongruous movements as they shriek in tongues before the dead.
Mohoka lay in her coffin as her family prepared her for the funeral; she was adorned with flowers: Flame Lily for wisdom, Kudu Lily for familial piety, Leopard Orchid for devotion to country, Wormwood Root for long life. Harube and Dena worked together on a necklace of ivory beads; there were two red beads for her children, three yellow beads for her grandchildren, and one black bead for her great-grandchild, which hung in the very center. Once prepared, the congregation gathered to celebrate Mohoka’s life, joining in song with her direct family in the forefront. It is difficult to convey the full meaning of their song in English, however, it may be translated as: “O great mother, wise teacher, may we celebrate your life for all generations / O generous mother, devoted giver, may we follow your pious example in life / O beloved mother, family to all, may your spirit live on in us as you move beyond this stratum.”
Readers, I now move towards the most difficult aspect of the funerary tradition; this is the element which will prove most shocking, and, though I implore understanding, I sense that many still will have a strong sense of indignation or violation of their sensibilities at this revelation. Please keep an open mind as I endeavor to phrase this as delicately as I may: after the chanting, the body is prepared and consumed by the family of the deceased. At once, I am aware that your moral sensibilities have been shaken by this! But please, consider that the Mohabe do not know the sin of cannibalism, and do not hold reverence for the sanctity of the body. By their limited understanding of the soul, they believe that the spirit is something that exists physically within a person, and that this may be transferred through physical consumption. Of course, upon learning this practice, I sent immediately for a Christian Mission for the Mohabe, so they may learn of the great depravity of the act they commit in the name of reverence!
As Mohoka’s body was prepared by her family, our visitor seemed to fall ill; he trembled, and lost the little color he had in his face. When asked if he would participate in honoring Mohoka’s legacy, he was near desperate to say “no.” When asked of this impertinence, our visitor explained that Christians treat their dead much differently. The practices he described were shocking; the Christian dead are first injected with poisonous extracts, before being buried in the ground or burnt to mere ash. Have they no respect for their dead? Who can truly love their mother, who buries her in the dirt to be eaten by worms and maggots? Who can truly honor their father, who destroys his body in all-consuming fire? Who would allow Mohoka’s body to be treated so cruelly, a woman who only gave up her generous life at the grief of a stillborn great-grandchild? Christians do not seem to understand the sanctity of the spirit; they have no means of carrying on a loved one’s life after death. We must pray to enlighten their benighted souls.