Grief in Cameroon Society – a blog by Ngwang Menang

Grief in Cameroon community

A burial taking place in Cameroon

Wikipedia defines grief as a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Grieving that is not well managed can be as dangerous as a time bomb because of the severity of the impact of the trauma and the after effects from corking one’s emotions.

“The culture of the people is their mark of nobility’’. This is the motto of my community; a community that is strongly attached to beliefs that are quite unique and diverse – ranging from their beliefs about nature, illnesses, causes and effects, why man exists, why man is ill and why things happen. Why? Why? Why?

Culture in Cameroon is defined by a set of rules set by the ancestors, whether accompanied by explanations or not. They are bound to be respected and are closely transmitted along the generational lineage, including the management of grief.

Culture has a very strong grip on the minds of Cameroonians just like in other African countries. In Cameroon it is very common to see learned professors refuse appropriate medical treatments in preference to rites, spiritual sacrificing or visiting exorcists; further portraying their strong attachment to customs and cultural beliefs and consequently promoting some non-beneficial aspects of our culture and customs, including grieving.

Like other countries in the Sub-Sahara, which is renowned for the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world, there is a steadily growing rate of grieving families proportionate to the high death rate. This situation includes grieving over the loss of children as malaria, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and other illnesses have resulted in high death rates amongst children, with the corresponding prevalence of grieving families.

Couple this with high poverty rates, illiteracy, lack of hospice and palliative care or cancer societies, hope is reduced at the moment to overcoming the hurdles caused by the complexity of many interwoven challenges, all of which make things worse for those who are grieving.

Cultural practices and procedures
Most community dwellers believe in ghosts and ancestors. While they used to be very afraid of death, which made grieving even more complex, the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS has led to daily burials.

Grief, from the cultural viewpoint, is widely accepted but often handled poorly. Typically, a grieving person from within the 250 ethnic groups making up Cameroon, experiences challenges such as being told to ‘be brave’, being persuaded to ‘stop weeping’ or to draw hope from other’s similar past experiences.

Grieving in the Cameroon society has a procedure; such as group visits where food and drinks are supplied and a grieving room which is set aside for grieving persons where friends and well-wishers come and sympathise. Some will help in doing things like cooking, house chores or farm work.

Grief is expressed by sadness, wailing, fasting, wearing of sackcloth, gathering around by relatives (usually the entire community), sympathisers and friends. However, grieving is sometimes considered a sign of weakness, hence it is often poorly managed and can lead to very serious psychological, physical or emotional consequences. This is especially true in the male group of grievers, as the culture permits grieving amongst females but it is forbidden for the males.

The bodies are buried by the community and it is routine for family members to take the last photograph of the person, throw soil into the grave and offer last words. Many family members in the process of grieving will remain standing by the graves and utter words at certain hours of the day, will burn candles or just keep the area clean, which has proven to be very helpful.

Every community has a culture of their own which needs to be respected and it is a difficult thing to replace or exchange cultural beliefs with those of others; such as replacing African cultural views with European views. However, appropriate education, sensitisation and learning can be helpful in addressing or improving the non-beneficial aspects of cultural practices.

Providing lessons on dealing with grief, building grief centres, training grief specialists and more will be very suitable and beneficial to a region such as ours, facing such huge challenges.

No independent research has been conducted yet on the severity of the consequences of unexpressed grief in Cameroon but the impact of not being allowed to grieve calls for such a study.

About the author
Menang Joshua editedNgwang Menang is a nurse with 7 years of working experience with the community health centre in the South West Region of Cameroon.

He currently holds the post of Communication Officer for the International Society for Nurses in Cancer Care and is a long standing member of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network and the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care.

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