Shaving a Path to the Future- Congolese Funeral Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Congolese American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Lingala

Context: This is a tradition that takes place when a Congolese woman’s husband passes away. My informant [OD] learned of this tradition from her dad and witnessed it occur when her uncle passed away.

  • What occurs?
    • When her uncle died, her cousin[his daughter] and aunt[his wife] shaved their heads as a means of honoring him and paying their respects. 
  • What was her opinion?
    • OD thought the tradition was very symbolic and powerful. By shaving their heads, her aunt and cousin marked a new phase in the life of their family. In addition, OD believed that it was valuable to maintain these traditions as Congolese Americans. Given the fact that they were in another country, maintaining these traditions was very important to her and those within her community.
  • Thoughts: After listening to OD’s explanation of this Congolese tradition, I agreed with the aspects of maintaining tradition as I am Nigerian American myself. Shaving one’s head to honor the life of a loved one may be viewed as very extreme from an outside lens, but because I have witnessed similar acts it was not that odd or strange to me. When my grandfather passed away, my parents flew back to Nigeria to attend his funeral. From my mom’s accounts, because of my grandfather’s status within his community, it was a tradition that all of the members of his family[wife, children, inlaws] dressed like him to both honor and emulate his spirit. This was a really powerful and symbolic gesture similar to OD’s tradition, it marked a new phase in my family’s life. While my grandfather had passed on, his spirit and legacy would live on in the members of his family. While it’s difficult to maintain traditions away from home[Nigeria or the Congo], in both cases, it is important to preserve them because they have such important value and continue to teach those who practice them more about themselves and where they come from. Traditions are important to me and I am inspired by the powerful meanings behind simple acts as shaving one’s head and even dressing like a deceased loved one. These traditions take on new subjective meanings to the families and communities that practice them and continue to preserve the connections between them and their respective cultures.