Monday, December 10, 2012

Morocco 101: Funerals

One of the most amazing parts of living in another country is getting to experience its cultures and traditions firsthand. We've experienced observances of life - birthday parties, engagement and marriage ceremonies (I haven't seen these in person yet, only from afar and through people talking about them - hoping for an in-person experience in the coming year!), traditional events for a newborn baby... each with its own set of music, festivities, atmosphere, and food. And now in addition to those observances of life, we have experienced an observance of death. Recently, Justin and I returned from our travels to learn that our landlady had passed away. Since death is an important part of any community's culture and traditions, I thought it might be interesting to talk about how Moroccans observe death.

Moroccans follow Islamic tradition by burying the deceased within 24 hours of their death. The body is prepared at home by family, or if needed, by someone in the community who has some experience. The body is typically wrapped in a simple and modest cloth and some perfume may be applied to the cloth as well. After prayers have been said, the body is carried through the streets as a mark of respect, and then buried in a cemetery facing Mecca. 

It seems as if almost as soon as a person dies, a tent is erected right next to their home. Neighbors immediately mobilize to prepare food for the family in the tent (it is truly an amazing show of community!). For three days, family and friends gather together in the tent to mourn and read parts of the Qu'ran. After those three days, the tent is removed and the family (particularly the spouse) continue mourning for 40 days, and during that time friends and family come by to pay their respects. 

Justin and I visited our landlady's family during those 40 days of mourning. We had returned from our travels and were doing laundry on our roof, when we heard a neighbor yell over to us from an adjacent roof to tell us about our landlady's death. We were spending that afternoon with two of our good friends who speak English well, and so we asked them to help us understand what we should do when visiting the family. They advised us to bring two large cones of sugar, a typical gift that is brought to families on a wide variety of occasions, and to greet the family with a traditional phrase in Moroccan Arabic, "Baraka f rassk," literally meaning "Blessings on your head" but metaphorically meaning something more like "May God grant you grace." The following day, we went to our local shopkeeper (who also made sure we knew about the landlady), bought our cones of sugar (8 pounds worth) and headed to our landlady's home. We arrived there just as a group of other people were leaving. The family brought us into the "salon," the Moroccan equivalent of the living room. They brought out tea (no Moroccan observance seems to be without it) along with some cookies and traditional breads, and we ate and met new members of the family. Our friends had advised us not to stay too long, so we left after an hour or so. The family seemed really touched that we came there and took the time to understand the customs and traditions.

Certainly there are many variations in funeral observances throughout Morocco - the Imazighen people, for example, have their own set of customs, and Moroccan Jews (which I talked a bit about in a previous blog post) observe death very differently. As our last year ticks by, I hope to experience much more about Moroccan observances of both life and death that I can share with you!

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