If you’re attending a nine nights yourself, be sure to dress well. Family and friends dress in their best clothes. While guests wear black clothing for the religious service, nine nights does not have a formal color dress code.
For the burial, it’s also appropriate to wear black. Children often wear white to symbolize their purity, but adults will wear black or neutral clothing. Most guests dress conservatively.
Mood and offering condolences
The best way to offer your condolences is to partake in the merriment of nine nights. Most of these occasions are large and lively. It’s not uncommon for them to be open to the entire community.
Many outsiders are surprised by just how energetic and exciting nine night parties are. This is not a time for mourning. Jamaicans see death as a natural part of life. As such, it’s a time to celebrate when a soul finally leaves this earth after nine days. To offer your condolences, be mindful of this celebration and join in.
» MORE: Everyone’s wishes are different. Here’s how to honor your unique loved one.
Jamaican Burials and Mourning the Dead
After the funeral or nine night celebration, the body is buried the next day. In the past, slaves used crops as grave markers. Because of this, grave markers and headstones are of great importance to the Jamaican people. Today, families will wait up to a month to raise money for burial within a proper plot with a market. With the cost of funerals rising, this is a greater challenge for many.
Family and friends put rum, money, food, and trinkets in the casket of the deceased to help them get to the afterlife. For those killed by witchcraft or murder, the family places knives or other weapons in the casket for seeking revenge.
Despite hundreds of years passing since colonial times, these pre-emancipation traditions are still alive and well in Jamaican communities. Across the globe, you can find hints of these cultural traditions within communities of immigrants. People in Jamaica believe in the reality of the afterlife. Because of this, they don’t outwardly mourn their dead as people do in other traditions. Instead, they pay respects through celebration and fun.
A Glimpse Into Jamaican Funerals
Jamaica has a rich history dating back centuries. The Jamaican funeral customs and traditions survived through times of slavery as a way to protect African beliefs. Over time, these funerals blended with European and Christian beliefs to create the one-of-a-kind experience they are today.
From the celebration of nine night to the intricate burial practices, every step in this funeral process has its own meaning. Nothing is an accident. This grand celebration of death brings life to Jamaican communities across the globe. These gathers take on a life of their own.
The Jamaican Funeral Nine Night
The next step in the Jamaican funeral process has several parts. The celebration of the one passed away is a festive occasion known as Nine Night. The event is also known as Dead Yard or Set-up. The celebration takes place on the ninth night after the death and is expressed with food, white rum, music, dancing and sharing stories. The ninth night was chosen because tradition held that it took nine nights for the spirit of the slave to make its way back home to Africa to find peace.
Before the Nine Night festivities, a short religious ceremony is held. Often the community gathers in the home of the deceased for the religious service. Some communities are large enough to enjoy the presence of a church building, so the service can be held there. Funerals are the most formal event that takes place in a church building. Bands and live music accompany the procession. Prayers and hymns are offered on behalf of the deceased, letting the spirit know that it is time to leave the earth. Although not always the case, today most in Jamaica believe all souls go to heaven.
On the ninth night after death, the day before the actual funeral, family and friends gather for a celebration. The events of the evening start around 8:00pm and the festivities last all night long. Like many funeral traditions held in homes, the furniture of the home is rearranged. Here are a handful of the traditional activities.
- Furniture in the house is rearranged. The tradition rests on the belief that rearranging things keeps the spirit – also called the duppy – from recognizing things. The mattress in the bedroom of the deceased is flipped over so the duppy is not tempted to crawl into bed. Mirrors are covered so the duppy cannot see itself or others. The belief concerns the spirit’s desire to stay rather than go on to the afterlife, and a comfortable, familiar home would provide too much of a temptation to settle in.
- During the evening, several dances will be held, celebrating the creation of life and the life of the deceased. Stories about the lost loved one will be shared. The music played often has meaning for the family, or carries strong cultural meaning. The first dance is called “Dinki-Mini” and invites deceased ancestor’s duppies to join in.
- A table with food and drinks invites the duppy to join in the festivities. It is believed that the duppy will sit down at the table, eat and drink, and enjoy the stories that are being shared. No one can sit or eat at this table until after midnight, the special hour when the duppy has left for the afterlife.
- When the family removes the body from the home, they carry the body out feet first. For good luck, they sweep the rooms behind the body as it is carried outside. The process releases negative energies and symbolically cleans the house.
- Another common tradition is to pass an infant or young child over the body in the casket several times. This stops the duppy from causing any harm to the child or the family. Most of the traditions concern the belief that the soul needs to escape the confines of the body.
- Family and friends will place rum, food, money, and trinkets in the casket of the deceased to help them get to the afterlife. In the event the death was a tragic event, knives and other weapons in the casket allow for the duppy to seek revenge.
Food and Send-Off
The occasion of a spirit leaving the earth deserves a proper send-off. Common to most cultures, food brings a community together. The Nine Night feast will often enjoy goat soup, cooked green bananas, white rice and several other traditional Jamaican food. In addition to the food, the alcohol is constantly flowing. A favorite libation is the smooth white rum. During this party, the family pays proper respect to the dead, so the ghost does not haunt the community indefinitely.
The use of flowers permeates the funeral experience in Jamaica. Flowers adorn the home and the casket of the loved one. Common flowers include roses, lilies and orchids. Color plays a more significant role than the type of flower. The colors of red and white are symbolic representations of death in Jamaica.
Music sets the stage for the Nine Night celebration. Extravagant festivities feature live music. Even smaller, more intimate gatherings include a professional disc jockey to orchestrate the recorded music. With hymns and dirges absent from the play-list, Reggae and island music from Bob Marley and Desmond Dekker & The Aces set the pace.