The burial site marked a return to Mandela’s humble roots, but the funeral trappings were elaborate. South African honor guards from the army, navy and air force, including both black and white officers, marched in formation along a winding dirt road.
In contrast to the military pomp, some speakers evoked the traditions of the Xhosa tribe, to which Mandela’s Thembu clan belongs.
“A great tree has fallen, he is now going home to rest with his forefathers,” said Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, a representative of Mandela’s family who wore an animal skin. “We thank them for lending us such an icon.”
Another speaker, Zolani Mkiva, served for many years as Mandela’s praise singer, a traditional role in which he shouted out the leader’s attributes to audiences, prefacing Mandela’s many stations in life with the words “very important:” person, prince, patriot, politician, prisoner, philosopher, president, pensioner, patient, papa.
“The bones of our ancestors are vibrating. The waves of African oceans are reverberating,” Mkiva said.
In keeping with Xhosa traditions, Mandela’s casket was brought to Qunu Saturday draped in a lion skin, an honor bestowed on those of a high rank like Mandela, who is the son of a traditional clan chief. His body lay for the night in his family home before burial, a time when tradition dictates that family elders “talk” to the body to explain to his spirit what is happening.