Friday, March 14, 2014

When I Die…

There is a certain person I know who shall remain nameless who likes to use the phrase, “When I die….”  This is normally followed by some sort of guilt trip: “When I die, you will miss me.”  “When I die, who will do your laundry?”  “When I die, you will cry more than anyone else at my funeral.”  Well nameless person, I love you very much, but there is one thing I will NOT be doing when you die.

The press in Africa is very interesting.  There is lots of censorship because many newspapers are either state-run, or political leaders (as private, very rich citizens) hold a majority stake.  On your next visit to Washington, D.C. visit the Newseum.  On the second floor there is an exhibit which discusses freedom of the press in every country in the world.  Green countries have the most transparent media outlets, while red ones are highly controlled:
The challenge with the media in Africa is that despite government intervention they still need to make money.  This is done through advertisements.  The most prevalent revenue generating advertisement in many parts of Africa is… obituaries.  Obituary advertisements have become an art form here.  Back in the U.S. you call the newspaper to announce a loved-one’s death and write a brief (probably 100-200 words) summary listing surviving family members and funeral arrangements.  That is not what happens here.

Funerals in Africa are like weddings in India, they last for days and EVERYONE attends.  Preparations for funerals are extremely elaborate.  In the case of one friend, his aunt died in November, however she is not being buried until May.  Why?  Because the family wants to build a new house for all the anticipated guests that will visit and have special, matching outfits designed and made for the entire extended family to wear on the day of the funeral.

It is actually easier to obtain a loan to purchase an obituary advertisement and/or make funeral arrangements than it is to secure a loan to send your child to college!  And these ads are not cheap.  They often cost several thousand U.S. dollars.  But they are considered highly necessary to demonstrate social standing, legitimize political influence and exhibit continued strength of the family lineage.  The larger and more colorful an obituary ad is, the more important the person.  As you can see here, the full page spread for the man on the left means his family has more money, and thus, more societal influence, than the two women on the right who only have half page ads:
However, even after the funeral has passed that does not necessarily end the canonization of the deceased.  Here is an example of an annual remembrance of this man’s death.  In case you can’t read it, the ad mentions his family line by stating he left behind 4 wives, 46 children, 112 grandchildren, and 40 great-grandchildren:
When I die I do not expect a full page spread in the newspaper.  And as much as I love my family members, friends and others reading my blog out there, I’m sorry, but I will not be taking out a loan to purchase an obituary advertisement for you either.

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