Monday, September 27, 2010

Family, Celebrations, Food and Funerals

Unfortunately, my bf's grandmother died about 5 weeks ago here in Jamaica. I was then able to experience the rituals involved in a Jamaican funeral which is an interesting research subject. The most shocking aspect was that the funeral was held 4 weeks after the death. This delay allows for family members from all over the world to get time off from their jobs and fly in. It also allows time for the family to get the large sum of money needed for the funeral. The relationship between the "foreign"family and the local family during the planning stage is also noteworthy. The foreign family sends a list of demands for the funeral that they believe are in good taste and can't be left up to the home based family such as the type of coffin, the style of car to be used as a hearse, options for a mourning car etc. It is assumed that the home family cannot make such decisions since in most cases the overseas family will cover most if not all of the cost.

Once the date for the funeral has been set based on the approval of the foreign family, there's much back and worth about the details of the funeral...who will read the eulogy? tributes? verses? sing? dance? pall bearers? do we need a glass chariot? (yes, a glass chariot), who will host the nine-night and the repass? etc.

On the week of the funeral, it's all about finding accommodations for the foreign based family, as well as getting them from the airport. This task can difficult because everyone comes in at different times and depending on the size of the party and their luggage, it may require more cars or more living space. Once family members are here, it also means getting them around Jamaica to see all the people they need to see and feeding them their missed local dishes on a regular basis.

Before the funeral, a nine night is held where family members and friends visit the home of the deceased for several nights. The nine night I attended was not so much like a wake but more like a "session". Yes, there was the traditional tent with people singing hymns but there was also a DJ and a live band that led the singing of the hymns. In addition, there was a lot more than the staple fish and bread but drums cooking pan chicken, a big pot of manish water, curried goat, roast breadfruit, fried chicken, rice and peas, green salad and dessert.

On the opposite side of the food, a complete bar was set up with red stripe, guiness, smirnoff ice black, soft drinks, and hard liquor (mostly wray and nephew white rum). It's safe to say that the family, friends, neighbors, friends of the neighbors, friends of friends, friends of the family and everybody else did not leave hungry or thirsty.

The following morning we were at the funeral for a service which lasted almost 3 hours. However I was told that this was a very short service because it can last up to 4 or 5 Following the burial, we headed a family member's home for the repass or gathering for family and close friends. Food is also served at a repass but like any large event with free food, greediness is always present...and no offense to my church going peeps but church people is the greediest people in the world...I've seen it too many times to say it's just a coincidence. Imagine the church had their own bus to transport their congregation to the repass even though most of them did not know the deceased. And they eat their belly full; even asking for seconds and plates to carry home for their families! and without any shame! don't you feel ashamed or a little guilty for imposing on an intimate family gathering and eating food that was not catered for you????

Greediness at a funeral is not specific to Jamaica ....there's just shameless greedy people all over the world and I hate it! But i did enjoy seeing the family get together and celebrate rather than mourn their mother and grandmother. It made me think a lot about family in Trini and how much I take them for granted is short and let's make the best of it and appreciate all of our blessings :)


  1. I loved this, cultural studies for the win. It's a bit snobby of the foreign family to think the local family can't make tasteful, in my opinion, but as you said, they are the ones paying. I suppose "respect" for a passed on family member is not longer just simply mourning, remembering, and praying for their soul. It is now monetarily measurable. And don't beat yourself about your family, here :) you're always here for your cousins, and for you mum, dad, brother and his family. And well, that's admirable! You have your family in Jamaica which you chose, and the one here you born with! :) lols, I think you doing good. :)

    For me, Dad's side of the family, you guys are a whole new adventure for me, because when I was younger, I never spent enough time with you all. I was always with Mum's family. So I'm really glad technology is here to keep in contact with everyone, even those who are away!

    Hurray :)