‘Chema’ revived in urban areas

HARARE - A long-forgotten burial custom has been resurrected to help impoverished Zimbabweans, who are losing an average of one family member a month to AIDS and other diseases now classified as "incurable" because of the country's crumbling healthcare system.
In the distant past, when a poor fam

ily lost a member, neighbours would bring what little they could afford along to the funeral to help the bereaved feed the mourners.
These token contributions were known in Shona as “chema” or “tears”, representing a gift to transform the tears of mourners into something more useful.
The rich did not need “chema”, for they prided themselves in being able to bury their dead in lavish style.
“We are now seeing the re-emergence of the custom of ‘chema’ for two reasons,” a Harare pastor explained. “With the AIDS pandemic, families are losing more members than they would otherwise do; and with the collapsed economy, families have become so poor that they are looking increasingly to neighbours for assistance.
“What is interesting is that this was mainly a rural custom where villagers were all basically related. Now the custom has come to the urban areas, where your neighbour more often than not is a complete stranger.”
Thanks to the revival in the custom, families in poor suburbs are able to give reasonably decent burials to their relatives, as the AIDS pandemic continues to claim victims with grim regularity.
“Without the assistance being given through ‘chema’, many poor families would be giving their dead paupers’ burials due to the current harsh economic situation in the country,” said the pastor.
These days, ordinary Zimbabweans are barely able to meet their daily needs, let alone raise at short notice the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean dollars charged by funeral parlours, and also find the money to feed relatives and people who come to console them in the manner demanded by tradition.
At one reputable funeral parlour, the cheapest coffins cost between 60,000 and 120,000 Zimbabwean dollars (240 to 500 US dollars), while the swisher white coffins favoured in better times now cost anywhere between 160,000 and 195,500 Zimbabwean dollars. A grave plot at Harare’s Granville Cemetery, which is mainly for poor urbanites, costs between 20,000 and 38,000 Zimbabwean dollars.
These funeral costs are high for a country where the unemployment rate has risen above 80 per cent and the lowest-paid workers earn less than Z$15,000 a month, while economists estimate the average monthly salary at Z$40,000. – IWPR

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