Peculiar funeral customs pervade Yemeni governorates [Archives:2007/1078/Reportage]

August 20 2007

By: Abdul Qadir Al-Emad
For Yemen Times
[email protected]

Every community has its own cultural beliefs and traditions for various situations and occasions. Visiting the graves of religious sheikhs, especially those who passed away a long time ago, is a habit practiced in several governorates of Yemen. In Dhamar governorate, this tradition is well-known. The purpose of these visits lie in peoples' strong belief in receiving blessings from deceased clerics.

On a trip to Wasab Al-Aly (90 kilometers to the west of Dhamar City), a visitor may discover customs practiced by natives of some sub-districts such as Al-Seef. Both male and female residents are good and humble, living a simple life in a very ruggedd mountainous area. The peaks of mountains remain green throughout the year, adding to the region's natural beauty. The locals are as attractive as the area in which they reside.

Although it is isolated like an island, Wasab is very interesting and its natives have been bestowed with innocence and openness. It is very rich with customs and traditions that a visitor can rarely find anywhere else in Yemen.

Life After Death

Much more astonishment lies in the belief of people on the matter of life after death. In different ways people think that dead people come to life again but are invisible. Consequently, the locals of Wasab practice different customs related to these “invisible spirits.”

The focus of this article is on the funeral customs practiced by women as well as men. Women usually send roses and flowers to their relatives who have passed away, while men send bottles of a specific perfume called Jannat Al-Na'eem.

Both men and women consider a newly-deceased person as their messenger to the after-life. This is not a new custom but a very ancient tradition that successors inherited from their ancestors. The mystique is that people from different ages approach the custom in different ways. Residents of Wasab believe that nobody from amongst their people goes to Hell after death, but that Paradise is ordained for them. Fatima, like other native women of the region, believes that only non-Muslims are going to Hell.

At the funeral of Kasim Ali, a Wasab native, Fatima sent bouquets of flowers and asked Ali to deliver them to her husband who passed away ten years ago. She said to Ali, “Please take these flowers to my husband and convey my regards to him.” When asked how a deceased person can carry flowers to her long-time deceased husband she replied, “He is now dead but after being left by us under the ground of the graveyard, he will meet all of those who passed away before and will submit the messages to all of them. You know, they are living after death in the same neighborhood which is the graveyard.”

20-year-old Mohammed Ameen sent his grandfather a bottle of Jannat Al-Na'eem perfume. Fatima and Mohammed were not relatives of Ali but were his neighbors, so they did not appear as upset as his relatives. In fact, they looked somehow pleased because they found a messenger to their deceased relatives.

Locals consider taking photos of the funeral as inconsiderate and harmful, especially to the relatives of the departed person. Their funeral customs symbolize their belief in the saying: “The people die, but spiritually they stay alive.”

For Saad, a teacher at Al-Farroq school, all these thoughts and beliefs are baseless. “Illiteracy and lack of enlightenment are two rulers of these innocent people,” Saad added.

Banning the cleaning of houses on Monday & Thursday nights is another local tradition connected with death. Ghazal Hussein explained that cleaning up rooms of the house or clothes is dangerous on Monday and Thursday nights because she believes that these nights are blessed nights (Be'ooth Nights). “We feel terrified that the ghosts of our people who passed away in the past may come to life again,” Hussein mentioned.

On these alleged “”blessed”” nights