Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lakota Funerals

I had my first experience of Lakota culture today, as I had to help Father John with a funeral out in Norris, SD. It was exactly what one would imagine a funeral in rural South Dakota would be like. The little church right off Little House on the Prairie. There was the rugged South Dakota hills in the distance, and we followed the casket up the dusty road to the cemetery on top of the hill. This, of course, was all after the wake we had last night. (Apparently, this was a "progressive" family that only wanted a one-night wake, not the traditional 3-night wake.)

The commital service was done traditionally with sage incense and Lakota prayers. To add to the fun, the tradition in Lakota circles is that the pall bearers actually fill in the grave after the casket has been lowered in. Yes, they shoveled in the dirt for the entire grave. It took about 45 minutes. We were wearing black, and it was 94 degrees. Never gotten sun burned at a funeral before.

Afterward there was a large buffalo dinner, and what Lakota custom calls a "giveaway." A "giveaway" apparently has its roots in the olden times when the deceased's belongings were given away to the elders and family members. Nowadays it is apparently more ceremonial with new blankets given by the family of the deceased to the elders. Apparently clergy (and clergy assistants) fall into that category, so I ended up with a nice woven mini-blanket.

The whole funeral was an all-day affair. Very beautiful but quite long. My cassock now smells like sage.


Kyle said...

I wish I had a cassock that smells like sage. Or maybe a little rosemary.

I wonder if you've thought about doing a little reflection on whether or how much "syncretism" is present in such "joint" rites...?

The Archer of the Forest said...

That's a good idea...I will blog about that in a while.

Caelius said...

A few years ago, my youth group cleaned and fenced a cemetery at Kyle in Pine Ridge. The youth group's chaplain did some sort of grave blessing, too, and he indeed was given blankets and pillows. I still have one of the pillows, since it's best if the giveaway is spread around.