by Fikirte Teka

There are several social events happening among Ethiopian society. Passing away of someone, mourning and funeral as well as wedding are among the major social events that are dealt as big affairs among Ethiopian communities.

Death is the saddest event that human being come across in life. Upon death of a person mourning is a big deal and funeral a big affair in Ethiopia. And Ethiopians have an elaborated tradition of mourning upon death though there are variations from region to region, and also variations among rural and urban dwellers.

The way people mourn and funeral services vary among the various ethnic, religious and cultural groups. In some parts of the country like southern Ethiopia, the mourning period before the actual funeral will take a long for good preparations of the funeral and to express the grief with also relatives and friends who come from afar.

In Ethiopia, people express their grief openly and loudly with wailing, and even by beating chests, and causing pains against bodies. While mourning beloved member of family or a relative, Ethiopians grieve bitterly to extent of causing physical harm on oneself. In some parts of the country, for instance, women beat their bodies and scratch their faces and foreheads.

In some places, a singer (most of the time woman singer) comes, especially at a time of the actual funeral, and sings grief song with naming the deceased and mentioning all his/her good characteristics, ways of life and style as well as achievements while he/she was alive.

As people including families, relatives, friends, and acquaintances come in a large number since the very day the death of a person is heard and also in the days after the actual funeral, there need to be a wider house to accommodate the people coming for mourning and for comforting the bereaved families.

And as individual houses are not wide enough to accommodate such a large number of people, it has been a custom here in Ethiopia, especially in urban areas, to putting up tents in the compound or outside the compound of bereaved family.

The funeral service for a deceased person is carried out based on his/her religion and culture. As the burial takes place in compound of church or near to mosques, the place is also decided after the religious group the one that has passed away was following while alive; and if he/she was under, he/she will be laid to rest at a burial place chosen by his/her parents.

During the funeral, only men carry the coffin, and even the procession to the funeral place forms groups of men and women. It is also only men that dig the hole to lay the coffin and carry out other activities at the cemetery.

After the funeral service is completed, the bereaved families sit or stand in row there to be greeted by people who may not go directly to the residence of the bereaved families for various reasons, most often due to urgent business or office work. This is done just to inform the bereaved families that they have attended the funeral as funeral is a big affair here in the society.

Coming back to the residence of the bereaved families after the funeral, people enter the set up tents with washing hands at the gate of the tent. Young people coordinate the washing and other services including serving foods, drinks, and coffee.

After the funeral, mourning and bereavement will go on for more days at home as there will come also relatives, friends, and acquaintances of either the deceased or members of the bereaved family for consolation and to comfort the family. It is a custom among Ethiopians to visit bereaved families with foods and drinks.

People come to mourn and comfort anytime from the actual funeral. The first three days after the funeral are different days when people come in huge number to visit the bereaved families.

It is customary among followers of Ethiopian Orthodox Church to commemorate the 3rd, 7th, 12th, 40th, 80th day, and the first year anniversary of the deceased with preparing foods and drinks to be served primarily for needy people.

Wedding is the happiest moment of life. Death and wedding are the two extremes, and even there are Ethiopian wedding songs that compare and contrast between these two events. Wedding is given special place among Ethiopians. Although wedding is differently celebrated by different ethnic and religious groups in the country, they also share similarities with most activities.

There are also different types of marriages by different cultures. Wedding in urban areas, especially in major cities like Addis Ababa is narrated as follows:

Marriage in urban areas is held upon agreement between the two partners. And their wedding is given special place. When a gentleman wants to marry a woman, he sends elders (Shimagles), most of the time a group comprises 4-5 elder people, to parents of his fiancé; and the elders are chosen by the groom as he believes they have profound knowledge about him, and they are also good speakers.

They need to have all the information about the man, including his families, childhood background, income, educational status, characteristics, and big achievement if any. Some days before the Shimagles go to the bride’s home, her families are informed that guests would come at a fixed day so that they would be prepared by setting other businesses aside and wait for the guests that day.

After conversing with the parents on the fixed day, the Shimagles would be told to come again another day fixed by the bride’s parents to announce their permission for the marriage and discuss the way the wedding ceremony would take place. On their second visit to the bride’s parents, the Shimagles take a gift with them to the parents, and the gift varies depending on the religion and culture of the parents.

This day the bride’s family announces their permission for the marriage and may request a person, among the Shimagles, who is to be bestowed special responsibility to ensure that their daughter would be in good hands while she is under the marriage.

Then the wedding day is fixed and preparations start to take place as there will be special foods and drinks prepared for the wedding ceremony. Wedding ceremony in Ethiopia, both in urban and rural areas, takes place with huge expenditures whatever it costs.

As wedding is given special place among the society, families, relatives, neighbors, and friends can make financial or other forms of contribution to have a successful and joyful wedding of the bride and the groom.

Some days before the actual wedding ceremony, neighbors and friends, particularly young men and women, start to come together at the houses of both the bride and her groom, especially in the evening, to sing and dance wedding songs. They take some hours to sing and dance until the actual wedding day.

Two-three days before or on the eve of the wedding day, the groom’s best men come to the bride’s house with dowry. In urban areas, the bride’s women take delivery of the dowry watching each items brought for the bride’s future use. With the dowry, the groom tries all his best to convey message that she would be in good hands in the future.

As there will be a big number of invitees, tents are putting up in the compound of the bride’s family, if another venue, most often hotel hall, is not arranged, to host luncheon of the wedding ceremony.

On the very day of the wedding ceremony the groom accompanied by his best men and other companions heads to the bride’s house to pick her to the feast place or to the photo program.

As he enters the house, brothers, sisters, or close relatives stand at the gate blocking the guests not enter the house easily, and the groom’s side first try to pass politely if the bride’s side insists on standing and blocking the gate, the best men appear to push forcibly and clear the gate so that the groom enters and meets with the bride dressed and adorned uniquely.

Before the bride and her groom leave the house, blessing session (mirqat) is conducted by her parents and relatives wishing them pleasant marriage full of health, prosperity, most importantly to have fruits (children).

Then the bride and her groom along with their companions leave the bride’s house kissing kneels of her fathers, mothers, and close relatives as they are sitting in row near to the gate. The feast is held with eating, drinking as well as singing and dancing at the venue prepared for the wedding ceremony.

On the third day of the wedding, the bride and the groom accompanied by the best men and the bride women and other companions come back to the bride’s house for dinner reception. This is locally known by “Melis”. This time, the bride and the groom as well as their companions wear different costume from the wedding day.

They do traditional costume, and like the wedding day the feast is held with eating, drinking, dancing and singing till midnight, even beyond in some places.

After sometime, a day is fixed to bring the relatives of both sides together for acquaintances. This is done at the groom’s house or an avenue arranged by the groom’s family. The wedding ceremony and related programs are concluded here, but members of families of either side take turn to host the bride and the groom for reception.

Fikirte is a regular contributor on the blog. She is a graduate on Ethiopian languages and literature from KETC and in Business Administration and Information Systems from AAU.

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