October 10, 2012

Hari Ragat: Death in the Janggalan Isles

Vijadesan funeral practices are dominated by two concerns: first, to put the spirit of the dead to rest by sending it on the way to Sulad; and second, to pin the cause of death on someone who must either recompense the bereaved or suffer vengeance.

Contrition Gifts
The Vijadesans do not accept any death as natural, but always consider it an act of spiritual malice if not actual violence. It is the custom for anyone who may have aggrieved the deceased in their last days to come to the funeral with gifts, so as to clear themselves.

If a ruler dies in or because of battle, his surviving men are expected to offer his family contrition gifts. If a warrior or servant dies in battle, his master must send his family gifts plus his rightful share of any booty taken. When chieftains fight in alliance and one is killed, the surviving allied chiefs must all offer contrition gifts. Failure to do so is considered grounds for blood feud.

After a brief wake, the body, which has been sealed with wax in a wooden coffin or a large earthen jar, is buried and a carved grave marker placed over the site. Mourning continues for forty days after the death. During the mourning period, none of the deceased’s kin will wear colored clothes, instead adopting the undyed wear of slaves, and wear no jewelry or weapons unless necessary.

To show the depth of their grief, some Vijadesans will take extravagant mourning vows, from which they can only be released by some great service to the dead – by avenging him or her, or seeing their children reach some milestone in life, etc. etc. For example, a recent widower may vow to drink no wine nor touch any meat until all his daughters have married.

If the deceased was murdered, or suspected to have been slain by witchcraft, a vengeance posse may be formed by the deceased’s heir or designated avenger and set forth as soon as feasible. Vendettas undertaken in the name of the dead are formally ended by placing some trophy taken from the enemy – often a head – on the avenged person’s grave.

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