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A grave in St. Vincent immediately after a funeral. (iWN file photo)
A grave in St. Vincent immediately after a funeral. (iWN file photo)
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By Trelson L. Mapp

It’s not uncommon for Vincentians in the Diaspora to convey attributes of Vincy funerals to colleagues abroad. “You need to experience it,” they might often say. The lucky few even show videos of the spectacle to visiting ensembles. If you know not what I speak of, I implore you to crash a funeral. Unlike weddings, one does not need an invitation to attend a funeral. Nevertheless, for your sake, I would give you a free funeral crashing course. Let’s call it Funeral Crashing 101.

First, you listen to the radio or televised obituaries to identify the location and time for services. Then select a few within close proximity to examine. Precision is key: You wouldn’t want to go to one that is too upscale. A few indicators, though not always, can help you:

  1. The names called in the obituaries,
  2. The quality of the hearse parked outside,
  3. The way the people outside are dressed, and
  4. The quality of the coffin/casket.

After selecting a suitable one, have a seat, but not too close to the front. Those seats are reserved for family and “diggin’ cherries” as Granny does say. Ladies, please wear flats, because you would soon learn that this is not a high-heel affair.

There are three types of people at Vincy funerals:

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  1. Those that are present in body;
  2. Those that are present in body and mind; and
  3. Those that are properly present.

In case you didn’t know, let me tell you the difference. The first are those who attend, mostly out of guilt, just to tick off that they attended the funeral. The second category represents a blend of two subcategories, those who are there for the amusement, God knows why, and those with genuine reasons for attending. Some folks usually attend a lot of funeral ceremonies as a result of possessing many friends. Try not to become too friendly with those, as deductive reasoning may lead you to conclude that all their friends are dying out. No one wants to be next in line.

The last, those properly present, are they that are there to be seen. This usually includes public figures and those vying to become public figures. Funerals usually give you a sense of upcoming public figures and those possessing those intentions, especially when there is a sudden and sustained augmentation in their presence at these ceremonies.

At Vincy funerals, the preachers are in their elements. It is here some of their best sermons, and performances, I must add, are brought out. It is here, they are fired up. If I didn’t know better, I would think that they welcome death. But on a serious note, I guess it’s an opportunity to witness to folks who otherwise may not grace churches. If you hear a wheezing sound, please leave your nebulizers in your pockets, nothing is wrong with the pastor. The pastor is only filled with “the spirit”. Sometimes they employ an admixture of esoteric mutterings, Standard English and the Vincentian vernacular, to ensure that all classes can receive “the spirit”.

Meanwhile, segments of the outside rabblement purchase theirs at nearby establishments. Vincy set up nice; rum shops are never too far away from churches. Accordingly, patrons are treated to alternative spirits. I’m told that Vincy has one of the wickedest spirits. Some even say that if fuel prices get too high, we need not worry, once Mt Bentick (distillery) is in business. It is okay if you do not drink; neither do I. You can purchase soft drinks from a nearby shop or mobile bar. But be respectful, remember you are there to observe; do not drink too many soft drinks, leave some chaser for those that wish to imbibe “these other spirits”. Always bear in mind that one man’s soda is another man’s chaser. Let’s get back to the service.

One time, a preacher was firing on all cylinders, and then a fella put up his hand. Initially, I thought he wanted to interrupt the preacher to ask a question. Just when I began to reprimand him in my mind, somebody commented that the fella felt “the spirit”.

The spirit seems to highlight people’s regrets. Now and again you might hear, “ah-shudda-bought-ah-Honda”. I figured I needed to share my regrets too. I’m there thinking I should have bought a BMW 3 series or the Audi Q7. Just when I was mustering the courage to express my consumption regrets, someone signalled, “the spirit is moving”. To tell the honest truth, I couldn’t see where it went, but I heard the steel pan tuning up outside, so I began to put two and two together. Don’t think anyone remembered anything the pastor said after that because all minds were set on the impending “sweat out”.

Vincy funerals are known for nice processions, usually accompanied by steel pans, drums and basically anything that can “doh, reh mi”. In some instances, too, speakers are mounted on the backs of trucks. The merriment is like none other. Although Vincy may not have such expansive road networks as other countries, funerals subjugate that cognizance. Motorists must accept the fact that the festival is more important than their journey or destination. As a result, one might see a small convoy or motorcade driving behind the procession. Once people know “the steel band coming”, attendance is high. An array of characters blends to amplify the atmosphere. In Vincy, the dead does not bury the dead.

After crowning with roses, for some, the highlight of the afternoon comes next. I’m referring to “the eating-up”. If you want a memorable occasion, an eat-up may be a necessary condition. This has become a regular and expected component, particularly in the last two decades. The culture seemed to be borrowed from North America, but with a different twist. In North America, attendees contribute to the bereaved. In Vincy, however, the bereaved are expected to feed the masses. As such, one must ensure that their loved ones are listed and financial in friendly societies.

Not all funerals are followed by “the eating up”. There are a few ways you can know beforehand. You can always check the “town gossip”. That is a sect of society that knows all the happenings. Those folks are sure to know. Alternatively, listening well during the church service can pay dividends. You may hear the preacher announce after the sermon, something to the tune of, “the family wishes to take the moment to moan in silence”. Do not be fooled my friend; those are not words from the English lexicon. The sentence is authentic Vincentian that roughly translates to, “Go home and cook!”

Peace and Love

5 replies on “The ‘spirit’ of Vincy funerals (+video)”

  1. A simplistic and unamusing “analysis” of a very important component of Caribbean culture which omits wakes, graveside competion between orthodox and Spritual Baptist adherents, family conflict concerning the society money and other inheritance, and many other issues which have been endlessly detailed and analysed by social scientists.

    Get a better Mapp/map of these ceremonies next time.

  2. Absolutely brilliant. Now this must sure best the best thing happening culturally in SVG right now. 100% SVG. This dude deserves an applause. I would like to shake his hand and tell him thanks for showing us that Arts and Culture are alive in our little SVG. Nice article. Really good piece.

  3. I love going to funerals and have been to hundreds in the last 10 years. A criticism I have takes the form of inviting the Prime Minister to funerals. Sometimes families invite the comrade to funerals fully well knowing the deceased hated him or at the very least disliked or had no respect for him. Think back to Edwardo Lynch’s funeral. Hounded in life, he disliked Gonsalves and worse still Gonsalves hated him. The results at the church were astounding. A lot of people who loved Edwardo and disliked Gonsalves were there and pandemonium broke out. The family invited Gonsalves, but you can be absolutely sure Edwardo never would have.

    But what I dislike about Ralph being invited to funerals, even to those of who liked and supported him. He is always so disrespectful by arriving 20 minutes after the funeral services has started. I have attended every funeral the comrade has and he is always late and marches to the guest of honor seating at the front in such a way to steal the limelight of the deceased and the grieving. Then being one of the first out of the church waiting to shake hands with all those he recognises as supporters, little or nothing to do with honouring the deceased. Everything has to be political, even death.

  4. Well written piece, true to the bone.

    After the string band or music truck as a motivator, a real motivator is eat up the family home. LoL!!!

    I totally love the last paragraph…All yuh hear??? “GO HOME AND COOK!” LOL!!!

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