A Different Perspective on Handling Grief: The Yoruba People

by O.K. (Gifted Graduate Student)
(Atlanta, Ga.)

A Different Perspective on Handling Grief: The Yoruba People

All over the world one can find many different avenues for handling the loss of a friend or loved on. Some cultures find it acceptable to mourn for long periods of time without the interruption of work or other obligations.

Other cultures wish to look at such events as a natural part of life and usher the grieving back into their normal routine. The Yoruba people have a different perspective on grief or loss.

They see it more as a time for remembrance and celebration of the deceased. Particularly Islamic Yoruba?s spend a considerable amount of time planning said celebration, as they believe that the deceased has simply moved on to another plain of life and are still with their loved ones every day.

Funeral Celebrations

The Yoruba people have a much different perspective on death then those of Western culture. We believe that death is not the end of life; rather it is a transition from one form of existence to another. We believe that others fear death because it signifies the end of a life and beginning into the unknown life. We believe that is it this fear that prevents others from fully embracing the notion of death, whereby preventing them from seeing all that it is and understanding all that it is not.

The death of a loved one is an understandably sad time. It?s a time of mourning spent with reminisces of memories past, but that is not all it is. It?s it also a time to rejoice in the time the loved one has spent with us and the impact they have left. Albeit difficult, the Yoruba people find it more fitting and beneficial to relish in the good times, knowing that their loved one is nearby. Acknowledgement of the loved one, talking about them with others and prayer for their safe arrival to their new plain are all cathartic remedies that the Yoruba people employ.

Prayers for blessing are a huge part of Yoruba culture. Of the sought after blessings wealth, children and immortality are the most common. They believe that after death there is the continuation of this life, just in a different place; a different plain. Arrival in this new place is contingent upon how well one has led their life and the nature of their death. There is an adage that says ?let one conduct one's life gently; that one may die a good death; that one's children may stretch their hands over one's body in burial.? Essentially, the safe arrive to this new plain is based on how well the deceased has treated others, their environment and themselves.

An especially difficult passing to handle is that of a newborn or a child. In this instance, the Yoruba people find it extremely important to find meaning in their life and the impact of greatness, however small or large; they have left on their loved ones. As expected, the passing of an infant or child is far more difficult to handle, so the mourning period may be a bit longer, but eventually a celebration of life is still had and the entire community, as with any other passing, rejoices in it.

The Celebration

The achievement of a good death is cause for celebration. Naturally, when a person dies, there is a period of mourning and outbursts of grief; this is a short period. Some families hire a professional crier; someone who knows how to praise the deceased while others take time to mourn. The funeral process/celebration is a seven daylong event.

The burial is performed by the elders of the tribe in which the deceased belonged, as they are seen to be closest to the ancestors and are highly respected. The first and second days are days of prayer so that the deceased can descend onto the new place and be welcomed. It is at this place that they can watch over their own descendants.

The third through sixth days are for feasting and celebration. The family members and members of the community eat and dance for this entire period. They also sit around and share memories of the deceased; this is a grand time. At this juncture one can?t assume that the pain of the passing is completely gone, but this celebration, this remembrance of their loved one is their therapy. They no longer feel the need to lock themselves and their emotions away.

Everyone is encouraged to openly express their sadness, while remembering that the loss of their loved one only means their physical embodiment is gone, but their impact on their family and friends, their legacy and their spirit lives on.

Also important to remember is the relationship the Yoruba people have with their ancestors, so with that in their foundation, they don?t ever really feel without the person who the love. Ancestors are seen as a source of strength, sound reasoning and direction. So having the one(s) you love ascended onto that new plain of life and having them, now, as an ancestor to watch over and guide them, gives the Yoruba people a great deal of security and comfort.

The seventh day marks the end of the celebration. Family and friends parade through the town celebrating their success in performing the burial celebration. They make sure to travel to each compound where they believe the spirit of the departed is expected to stay. This officially ends the celebration of the passing of the departed.


Albeit unconventional and difficult for some to conceptualize, the Yoruba people have been embracing and celebrating death since the beginning of their time. They find this way to better suit the emotional and psychological state of its people while paying homage to the life, legacy and ancestry of those who have moved on.

As a Yoruba woman living in America, being exposed to various ways of dealing with grief, I find this route to be one of peace, love and acceptance fueled by understanding, community and a belief in something greater than me. These concepts have healed me and have allowed me to share the journey of my people and my personal victory over pain and loss.

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