The Dying Art of ukududuza

  I am over the age of twenty-five but have yet to go to a funeral and peel vegetables. My grandmother is eighty and almost every week on a Friday or Thursday evening she goes out to peel vegetables somewhere in the neighbourhood where there is a funeral. She has to dress decently, wear subdued colours, cover her head and speak in low tones once she gets there. Once there she will go meet the deceased’s family, give some encouraging words and go outside to find work to do. This is etiquette at any black funeral in my neighbourhood for ukududuza; an act of going to console the deceased’s family in any way possible. I would go with her except I do not want to, also I do not know where my skirts are as my wardrobe is filled with pants of various types- over all funerals are depressing and overwhelming. This is not the spirit my grandmother and others like her in the neighbourhood embody; they seem to carry an unexplainable lightness when attending funerals, no matter how painfully the deceased passed or how devastated the family left behind is. They share the sorrow like it is a main course at a lavish buffet, managing to slip in jokes to blow away the dark cloud over the family and even singing in beautiful low tones. The peeling of vegetables and overall preparation of the funerals are to busy both the body and mind to make it forget the heavy burden of the death that has resulted; the routine is a reminder that life must go on, people must eat and most importantly we as a community have each other.   
With the advent of bustling catering and funeral services the act of ukududuza might fall wayside, people can hire these services and with the so called black middle class rising, this trend is becoming more popular. At some funerals one forgets they are at funerals because of the lavishness of it all, what this leaves behind is a gaping hole for those who go to the deceased’s family as they then have no way of showing their kinship in the pain shared, with no labour no act of love can be shared, all they can do is show face and sit outside twiddling their fingers, making the death even more emphasised without any activity to busy both the mind and body.   
Young people such as myself are busy with work and school and other side hustles; especially in Johannesburg; that such tradition are deemed not important to us. How many of those Braam cool kids know how to slaughter a cow or a goat or a chicken for that matter? The excuse always is we are working and we will hire people. This busyness affects even our time to share sorrow and mourn together as our ancestors did. We are constantly in touch with each other through social media but how difficult it would be to look a person, a friend, an acquaintance in the eyes and give them verbal consolation instead of writing on their Facebook wall.  
The human touch cannot be artificially recreated, it is one of the purest forms of the human condition engagement; ukududuza is that touch and we are slowly losing it. How many of your friends can you look at and truly know that should a death event arise they will be there silently holding your hand without needing to check their social media, doing what they can to be there without saying the words, like fetching water for elders, cooking, peeling vegetables or simply just holding you. I myself am not sure if I can be that friend, social media has made us so comfortable in our aloneness, couple that with my hermit nature- it will be difficult but for those I love I will try ukuba duduza in the best way without using social media.  

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2 thoughts on “The Dying Art of ukududuza

  1. Toni Morrison said something like this, about words being insufficient, that you should help keep your friend or love alive with food and what you call labour, until they are ready to keep themselves. I like this, I also think braam cool kids are peeling potatoes somewhere and not instagramming it. It possible.

    1. Yeah true, we have an image we maintain on Instagram that does not involve showing that we peel potatoes and chop cabbage when the situation calls for it. I just have a real fear about what type of adults we’ll become sensitivity wise you know, beyond likes of online posts about death. Think this would need a round table conversation. Thank you for the comment.

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