Farewell rituals of the Moru

In South Sudan many young people die from a lack of medical knowledge and facilities, from unbalanced nutrition and from armed conflicts. Saying goodbye to loved ones is the order of the day.

Over the years I have been able to get an idea of ​​the farewell rituals of the Moru culture. These are beautiful rituals with which the Moru show respect to the family. Above all, the rituals give space to grieving and also to its conclusion, because life goes on.

Summoning by the family

If someone from the Moru tribe dies, everyone in the area knows about it almost immediately. The relatives beat a medium-sized drum (diri). It is a monotonous and penetrating rhythm so that everyone around immediately knows that things are wrong. When you get close to the house, the women of the family start screaming (ruru or kuku o’be); the men also start shouting loudly (ligo o’be). The drumming continues unabated and several women throw themselves on the ground (ru o’be) as a sign of great grief. This convocation also happens if the death occurs in the middle of the night. Because during my stay in Lui I always got a place to sleep around Lui Hospital, I woke up several times from the drums, the screaming and the singing. This was regularly staged in a kind of procession so that no one could have missed the loss of a loved one.

Mother’s side of the family

During this gathering of mourning, everyone from the family around the deceased sits down on the floor. Memories are recalled and stories told. During this gathering of mourning, the family of the mother of the deceased is central. In principle, the deceased is buried on one’s own property or at least on the property of the family on the mother’s side. But there are exceptions, depending on different circumstances, it may be chosen to build a grave on the property of the paternal family.

Place of the grave

In the Moru culture, places are very important. Families live in the same yard (compound) for generations. The graves are sometimes in the center and sometimes on the edge of the yard. In the conversation with the maternal uncles, it is discussed where the grave (kala ‘bu ro osina) should be dug. Soon this place is marked and a small start is made with the mining.

Today, an excavator (guli or guri) is more often used. During the digging of the grave, continuous wails are heard. There is dancing and singing; in this the role of the maternal uncles and relatives is crucial. The Moru people don’t just put the dead body at the bottom of the hole. Usually a recess is made in the wall of the hole in which the body is buried.

Funeral process

When the grave is prepared, the burial process begins and this burial process is guided by cultural values that are strictly adhered to.

If a young child dies, you may not help with the interment if you have never lost a child yourself. When a baby dies, a boy is buried with the head to the west (a1Jgoya), and a girl with the head to the east (‘buzele).

The west symbolizes the evening, when the hunters go out. The east symbolizes getting up early in the morning. Women are supposed to get up early because they have to sweep the yard and prepare breakfast.

After the funeral, all those present return home to prepare for the first burial ritual, an occasion called torofo omvo, which literally means “removing the ashes.”

Torofo omvo – the first burial ritual

This occasion occurs after three days for a man and after four days for a woman, but in some Moru clans it is the other way around. Births are also only celebrated after three or four days; in the Moru tradition only then is the baby given a name. The waiting time for the first burial ritual refers to the waiting time after birth; this symbolically links life and death.

During these waiting days, the ashes of the African campfire will not be removed and the house will not be cleaned. On the eve of the Torofo celebration, people gather back at the house in the evening and bring all the food they can afford. Early in the morning on that third or fourth day, the yard will be cleaned (torofo omvo); and the hair of the family, siblings and parents and other close relatives is shaved with a razor near the grave. Then goats and/or bulls are slaughtered and there is plenty to eat and local beer to drink. In the evening a mourning dance follows in memory of the deceased. The music is sad and rhythmic.

Once the torofo omvo is over, the family meets again with the maternal uncles, just as they did prior to the funeral, to finalize the required payments according to customs and culture. If the deceased was a married woman, some payments must be made by her husband’s relatives, including a lot of food.

Older women in particular continue to grieve visibly for a long time. The mother, older aunts and grandmothers continue to walk around in sackcloth, rub themselves with ashes and take baths as little as possible. This mourning is called lu’be o’be. In addition, there will be a mourning meeting around the grave every morning from 05:00 – 06:00. The same repeats in the evening from about 5 to 6 pm.

Memorial service – a few weeks after death

A mass funeral service is usually organized about three to five weeks after the Torofo omvo. This is to thank God for the life of the deceased. These services are usually crowded and often held outdoors. Many different people speak and Church officials are present in large numbers. The clothing shows which function is fulfilled within the church. Deaconesses and women of Mothers Union help to steer the celebration in the right direction. Holy Communion is often celebrated during this service.

Budri – the last burial rite

After one to three years, the family sets a date for the celebration of the last funeral ritual. After this, the grave is made permanent (‘budri obe) and all matters relating to the deceased are finally settled. This last burial rite is known as ‘Budri’. The Budri is organized in consultation with the maternal uncles.

After the Budri ceremonies, the women stop visibly mourning. The idea is that the Budri is really a conclusion to the grieving process. Life goes on and the time of mourning has ended with the Budri.

Grave constructions

The construction of the permanent tomb varies from one Moru section to another.

Original Moru tombs are built using two types of stones (kuni): kuni edre edre, in which long slabs of stone were placed together in an upright position around and over the burial mound; and for the grave of the first child to die, which is for tapi or kori dri, they use kuni tako tako, in which round stone slabs were placed on shorter stones – encircling the burial mound and giving the set a table-like appearance. The stone slabs, whether round or elongated, were selected from the mountains and hills and sculpted into shape. They were usually so heavy that to carry them home a special path had to be cleared to the destination. To carry them, the stones had to be placed on a stretcher and carried on the shoulders by a large number of people, each carrying the stone a short distance and changing with colleagues.

Bear the burden together

Carrying the stones from the place where they were sculpted to the houses was surrounded by the cultural rituals. It was believed that if there were no problems in the family, then carrying the stone would be easy and fast. But if there were disagreements and bitterness in the family involved, the stone would become too heavy, it wouldn’t move quickly, or some people would get hurt while carrying it. If any of these were the case, the family involved would be requested to resolve the bitterness between them. This would normally involve confessions, forgiveness and atonement, called kala e7Jgye in Moru; and often this somehow succeeded.

The last honor

After the stone was placed and the construction of the tomb was completed, the party started with food and drink and dancing afterwards. The dances for the final burial rituals (‘budn) could last as long as four days or more. During these latter burial rites (‘budn) and according to Moru culture, bulls were first taken to the grave and then taken outside the house for slaughter, which is known as ti onga in Moru.

Images of the tombs

  • Upright megalith (‘Budri, kuni edre edre).
  • Flat megalith (‘Budri kuni tako tako) indicates that the deceased was the first child (tapi or kori dri).
  • Modern grave, often with memorial plaque.
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