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The Role of Social Anthropology in the Debate on Funeral Rites in Africa

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In view of the actual debate on funeral rites in Christian Churches in Africa, a revision of the old position of missionaries that forbade all traditional ritual concerning death as belonging to paganism should be undertaken on the basis of social anthropological research which analyses structure and function of the funeral practices. Thus the mourning rites are understood as means of purification and reconciliation of the bereaved extended family. Parallels between African rituals and those of Israel of the Old Testament may also be taken into account. The efforts towards contextualisation of the Christian message in days of mourning by the ancient Ethiopian Church and by churches in Zimbabwe of today may serve as guidelines for developing rituals marking the end of mourning focused on reconciliation and the victory of life over death.

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