How Burial and Death Rituals Can Lead to the Spread of Ebola - dummies

How Burial and Death Rituals Can Lead to the Spread of Ebola

By Edward K. Chapnick

West Africans from different countries — and even different villages and cities within those countries — have beliefs and traditions that differ from one another in how they perceive sickness and death. Here are a few examples that illustrate why Ebola might have spread so quickly in this area:

  • Sickness is a punishment that people must serve when they have wronged someone, whether intentional or not. The cure is not medicine (and especially not western medicine); the cure is full confession of all wrongs. If the person dies, it means he didn’t confess fully.

  • The natural world has an order based on allowing different life forms to be in their own space for reproduction and death (humans should be in their villages, crops in the fields, and animals in the bush), so if a person is very ill, she is to stay home so that she can die there. If she were to die in the bush (perhaps on the way to medical clinic), it brings a curse upon the harvest.

  • Pregnant women shouldn’t be buried with their fetus still inside them because doing so upsets the order by exposing new life to end of life. If a pregnant woman dies, the fetus must be removed before burial — a process that involves much blood (that is highly infectious, if she has Ebola).

  • Relatives of very sick and dying people are obligated to tend to the dying’s every wish so she doesn’t become angry after death. This anger would result in curses upon the village, which is why many people don’t want to take their Ebola-sickened relatives to isolation units. They can’t care for them there.

  • Immediately after death, the family and relatives gather to wash, oil, and dress the body (which is when most people probably come into contact with Ebola-infected blood and other fluids). The funeral begins right after the person dies, but it can last several days so people from around the area have time to visit. Then they bury the body in their village.