Mankind Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Fall 2012)
Death and Burial Practices in Contemporary Zulu Culture
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Customs and rituals vary between cultures and between religious affiliations within any community. Human burial practices are a manifestation of the human desire to demonstrate respect for the dead. Burials are an attempt to bring closure to the deceased’s family and friends, thus lessening the pain. Christian burials observe the ecclesiastical rites of burying the deceased under the ground. Similarly, most Africans, especially the Zulu people of South Africa, believe that burying their loved ones in the grave is the most respectful practice and a gateway to the ancestors. This article looks at the burial practices and beliefs of the Zulu people. More broadly, it examines the way of life of the Zulus, and their philosophies with regard to grief, mourning and the rituals of death in relation to the two chief practices of inhumation and cremation. The practice of cremation, which is becoming an option for some Zulu people, will be explored and analysed. The article argues that, among most Zulu, inhumation, or burial, is the preferred method of paying last respects to the deceased.