We were at a campus ministry retreat when we heard the news.

My husband’s uncle had passed away.  His mother’s brother.

We left the retreat to prepare for a nine-hour drive to for the funeral.  I was just under three months pregnant with my first child, and still experiencing a fair share of nausea.

We rode with my husband’s mom and arrived at the family compound, where grief and sadness hung thick like a canopy.

The town was much more rural than Cape Town, and though I had been there a few times, this would be my first Tswana funeral.

The next morning I woke up and walked outside to brush my teeth.  The only water source at the house was a single tap on the exterior wall, which emptied into a drain in the ground.  No sink.  To brush your teeth, you had to put water on your toothbrush outside and find a place to spit in the dirt.




Before I could even make it to the tap, I was greeted by a row of cousins, each with a plastic tray on their laps.  On each tray was a sheep’s head — eyes glazed over, limp tongue sticking out.  The cousins were using flat razor blades to shave off the sheep’s hair.



A wave of nausea swept over me.  I covered my mouth and rounded the corner, tying to get away from the sheep.  Around the bend were more cousins, elbows deep in huge metal bowls filled with sheep intestines.

And such was my initiation to the Tswana funeral.


This is Day 28 of 31 Days of Life in South Africa, a For the rest of the posts in this series, click here.


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6 thoughts on “a tswana funeral {day 28 :: wake}

  1. I guess if you ever made it through an African funeral, you’re truly initiated into the culture…I remember quite a few in Uganda we attended and it was always about a lot of meat 🙂

  2. Ooooh city girl! 😉 Toothbrushing…I never did spit on the ground though. My family didn’t do that. Not sure why!

    JK…I might have to share my experience when the matriarch of my host family died. That was a DAY! No sheep’s head though. It involved an awkward group bucket bath (I was on the sidelines, fyi), getting mistaken for the shop owner’s daughter, and somehow becoming the guest of honor.

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