Funeral rituals 1979, testimony of Catherina Gieskes

Like me, my husband was Cabindais (Yeze di N’Puna family). When I lost it, I was 28 years old. We lived in Brussels and I arrived with his body in Kinshasa, it was his parents’s decision.

My mother, who was in Kinshasa, called me and made recommendations :

I had long hair, she would tell me to have it cut flush because the in-laws could do it in bad conditions ;

When I got off the plane and all the time I was in contact with people, I had to look only at the ground, and in no way could I shed a single tear, and I couldn’t say a word.

I was wearing a long black dress with a black lace mantilla on it.

Returning to the car accompanied by several women including my mother, the procession of cars set off towards my husband’s uncle’s plot where his body was to be exhibited inside the house. That day, I had to stand, enduring all the name-calling, criticism that was thrown at me without being able to react. Another day, his body was displayed on the plot. I sat motionless in front of the coffin until the third day the body was brought to my father’s plot.

When I arrived in the plot, my grandmother I suppose and other women, took me directly, changed my outfit into a single loincloth and a blouse, and made me sit inside in a room on a kuala (handmade mat) recommending that I never respond to anyone talking to me, and never talk, not cry, and I could only look at the wall.

On the morning of the day of departure for the cemetery, loud noises were heard in the plot which was inundated with people.

At one point, I was lifted off the ground, asking me to close my loincloth. I accompanied the moms outside who gave me a large braided demijohn filled with water that I was to place on my bare head. I had to hold with my left hand the vehicle in which the coffin had been placed, and with my right hand the dame-jeanne.

The instructions were :

You will hold your hand and will not be able to let go of the car until a crossroads. Arrived at the crossroads the car will stop to take the path that will lead them to the cemetery, you, as soon as the car turns to one side, you will let go of your hand, and at that moment, you will throw the dame-jeanne by land with all your strength so that it breaks and you will take the opposite side of the path taken by the car, “If the dame-jeanne didn’t break it meant that the widow had killed her husband“. You will have to run to the house without looking back, “if you looked back, that meant that soon you were also going to die“, while letting yourself be whipped by someone from your husband’s family, “the person had been chosen“.

When I let go of the dame-jeanne which broke, I started to run so fast, crying and shouting that my friends who were behind me “all the people were running equally” shouted on both sides “it’s broken, don’t turn around, don’t run so fast, they don’t know how to flog you !” I slowed down, and finally arrived at the plot, a group of women were waiting for me and looking after me.

A little before midnight, I was brought behind the plot. In principle, in the villages, the widow is brought to the first river so that the in-laws could wash her by making Incantations, in order to free her from their bonds.

Here a large basin filled with water represented the river, and a member of my in-laws was there accompanied by members of my family. I was undressed and the person in the in-laws began to wash me by repeating incantations.

When that was done, my family took me and told me inside that I was free. I was given clothes and I had to stay three days before going to see my late husband’s grave.

It was hard !

Catherina Gieskes, Widow Yeze Nene in 1979

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