The Jamaican Funeral: A Study in Food, Beverage and Joy
I’m back from Jamaica and while I was there for a funeral, I’m still grateful for the time that I was able to spend with my family.
Jamaican funerals are different and I think everyone should experience them at least once. While there's a lot of sadness, there is also a lot of joy.
Here are my favorite aspects:
The night before the funeral, everyone gathers. It’s called Dead Yard, Nine Night or Set-Up. I think it depends on what part of the island you’re from because I said Dead Yard to another Jamaican and they had no idea what I was talking about. It’s the Jamaican equivalent of a wake, but with a few necessary components…
There is always always always white overproof rum. And someone always always always has too much.
Mannish water. As a kid, I loved this. I would drink cup after cup. It might have even been one of my favorite things. Then I found out the name was entirely deceptive because it’s really goat head soup. I haven’t been able to drink it since. I was tempted this year because something about the combination of spices grabbed me, but I couldn’t remove the mental block I created around 12 years old.
The whole neighborhood comes out and you’re expected to feed them. I believe that at American wakes, other people bring things. Not so much at Jamaican funerals. While this might seem like an inconvenience to others, I appreciate it because I think it serves as a good distraction. There’s not much time to be sad when you’re hosting.
If dominoes aren’t being played, it’s not a Jamaican event and a funeral is no different. After the funeral, we all gathered at my uncle’s house. After a few hours most of the crowd thinned out. I started to worry about him and my cousins being alone once the rest of us left, but then some of his friends arrived to play dominoes. I felt comforted knowing that they’d keep playing through the night and he’d be able to stave off the stillness and loneliness of the night a little longer.
There’s usually a DJ and/or band. Since it’s covid times, there wasn’t a lot of music. At one point my mom asked where the band was and threatened to leave since there wasn’t one (you can see where I get my sense of humor). This will normally go all through the night and some people will leave from the “set up” to the funeral because the partying has lasted that long.
I know I’m missing some things, so I’m asking my fellow Jamaicans to drop the other things into the comments.
I hope you’re all well!