History of African-American Funeral Traditions

African-American funeral traditions at funeral homes in Shaker Heights, OH offer an insightful look into some of the richest and most meaningful funeral rites and rituals in the world.

The roots of African-American funeral traditions lie in ancient Egypt. As part of Africa, Egypt strongly influenced the rest of the continent as it created embalming techniques and elaborate funeral rituals for loved ones who had died.

Egyptians were the first ones to learn how to preserve dead bodies. Using a mixture of spices, ointments, and other natural ingredients, along with cloth, Egyptians learned how to preserve the bodies of the dead. This process, called mummification, was best represented by the discovery of King Tut.

Egyptians also created the sarcophagus. This well-crafted burial container aided in preserving the body. Preservation of the body, the Egyptians believed, gave power to the dead person’s soul in the next life.

To house the sarcophagus, Egyptians built pyramids for the wealthy. These were filled with everything the soul would need for sustenance in the afterlife. Many of these pyramids were filled with furniture, clothes, and food. However, only the upper classes of Egyptians were buried in pyramids.

But the rituals of services and burial passed through all the classes of Egypt. From there, they spread out through the rest of Africa. The tribal communities took them and adapted them, so that each tribe had its own variation of funeral traditions to honor, to respect, and bury their dead.

When the slave trade began, many of those brought to the Americas were from Western Africa. In African culture, the women of the tribe were responsible for preparing the body, which included bathing and dressing it. No one else could handle the body until the bathing ritual is done.

Before the deceased was buried, tribal members presented gifts to the person. These were buried with the deceased, harkening back to the Egyptian belief that the soul would need them for the next life.

An elaborate mourning ritual followed. Again, women took the lead in weeping and wailing over the body. After an extended period of a few hours, the body was buried.

The whole community would then visit the gravesite for several weeks after the burial. They would pray that the spirit of the deceased had found peace. Services to celebrate the transition from this world to the next took place at a much later time. This might be several weeks or even up to a year after the person had died.

This was a memorial service, and it was filled with singing, dancing, eating and drinking, and drumming. Its purpose was to pay final respects to the deceased and to denote the end of the funeral observances for that person.

For the almost 400 years of slavery in the United States, slaves were prohibited from giving their loved ones a good funeral and proper burial. Part of this was due to the fact that slave owners feared if a group of slaves gathered together, they would rebel against the slave owners.

Many slaves were buried without any ceremony at all, in fields that were not used for crop production. Under the heavy yoke of slavery, African-Americans began to see death as freedom from slavery. As they embraced Christianity, African-Americans view death as a chance to be with Jesus and to go and live free and their heavenly home. This hope went to the development of the homegoing or homecoming celebration that is still an integral part of African-American funerals in some parts of the country today.

For more about African-American funeral traditions at funeral homes in Shaker Heights, OH, our compassionate and experienced team at E. F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home is here to help. You can visit our funeral home at 25900 Emery Road, Warrensville Heights, OH 44123, or you can call us today at (216) 831-7906.

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