Xizhou, Dali : A Parade of Funeral Mourners
Dali Travel Blog› entry 153 of 268 › view all entries
Apparently itâs Monday. Boy I canât remember the last time I woke up and knew for sure what day of the week it was. I didnât today. But apparently itâs Monday. Iâm told. Apparently Iâm in Dali. Although there was some haziness; some uncertainty on this particular point for a minute or three this morning too when I awake and realise my night bus had reached its terminus some while ago.
After a Lonely Planet wild goose chase for cheap guesthouses that have either since been knocked down or elevated their prices to the stratosphere I gratefully dump my bags in the Friends Guesthouse. I have met Anna. A vivacious, smart, well travelled Danish girl who speaks perfect English with an American accent.
We catch the local bus to Shangguan ( 7RMB/ $1) but unfortunately thereâs a drizzle and rain this morning which keeps the needy traders hunched under canvas and tarpaulins and kills off any charm or enjoyment that would otherwise have been derived from this market scene. We get back on a bus to the much touted âAncientâ town of Xizhou that rests between Dali and Shangguan.
Yes, the âAncientâ town of Xizhou.
The main heart of the principle Xizhou sprawl (of three town settlements separated by bands of agricultural farming and cropping lands as you head the several kilometres to the lake side) has large, expensive looking plastic and laminate promotional signs and banners proclaiming the upcoming beauties of âAncient Xizhouâ. Still under construction. Airbrushed or Photo Shopped images of what the finished article will look like when fully, finally rendered in painted concrete and neon street lights. Like those shopping mall/ hotel investor prospector illustrations around construction sites in urban centres. âComing to a neighbourhood near you soon oh tourists!â.
Okay itâs not quite that bad.
The men stoop to gather up the coffin. It is crafted of wood, tapering and conical and painted a bright red. Looking like the chassis of certain 1920s race cars. The coffin is put on a platform then covered with a decorated metal canopy housing and lifted on to the shoulders of eight or so pallbearers. Wooden yokes rest on straining shoulders. An eruption of noise. Gun fire? No, many tens of tens of loud Chinese fire crackers set off at the head of the procession that now begins. Long ribbons of cotton sheeting, twisted into a rope splay out from the front of the coffin-housing and are clutched by male friends and family who walk ahead of the deceased.
Every few hundred yards the coffin housing is set down on wooden supports. Everyone stops. The women, one lady in particular ( the mother? The wife? We cannot tell.) , howl the name of the deceased until their vocal chords must be nearly wrenched asunder. âAmaaaaaaaar!â. âAmaaaaaaaaaaaaar!â. âAMAAAAAR!â. Selected people from the procession at these points of rest read from parchment scrolls.
To bring you into the picture too, Anna and I have long been accepted into the funeral procession at this point. At first curious outsiders. Observers. The men particularly have drawn us along, made it clear we are in no way âinvadingâ or violating a private moment with our presence. Even with our photography which they positively encourage.
A great roar of fire crackers lifts to the sky again. Anna and I jump at the noise. They are fired to chase away; to keep evil spirits back from the coffin of the deceased. This now is lifted once more onto the shoulders of men and further carried through the streets. The nearby, uniquely heart-rending noise of feminine sorrow accompanies me through the passage of alleys as I walk besides the parade of funeral mourners.
Also I am implored, laughingly, unbelievably to become one of the pallbearers and to help carry the coffin through the streets. An honour too far though. And one I am understandably nervous about. At an average six inches shoulder height shorter than the rest of the bearers my capacity to upset the coffin housing and its sanctified cargo into the streets is far too great for me to risk. Thatâs one anecdote I do not wish to collect to relate here on the pages of TB.
At the eventual end of the funeral. The brightly coloured carpets whose purpose - as with so much else - remains unclear to Anna and I are rolled away.
Wow. Quite a moment. Quite something to witness. And to become a part of. On the one hand Anna and I canât believe our luck. But then our private thoughts draw back, because Luck and Death are not to be associated of course. Still. Something so far removed from our own western European experiences of grieving, loss and funerary ritual and ceremony has been witnessed. Colour and noise and fanfare. Jocularity and good humour and generosity from the men. A celebration accompanied by the intense hum of sorrow; punctuated by great wailing displays of the very real pain of open spiritual and emotional wounds inflicted by loss.
Things back home, for the most part are so much more restrained. Suffering in silence. Suffering with a stiff upper lip. No pomp and little ceremony in modern England today. A small, mostly silent gathering of friends and family. Quiet contemplation laced with stifled sobs and sniffs. A room. A coffin. A curtain. Some flowers. Some music. Do we have faith? Or do we not? And does it matter anymore. A Prayer or two for those who need. A son reads a well-meaning, pretentious eulogy for the deceased. A sister a heartfelt poem. A mother sits and sobs, though stoic as ever, and wonders how she managed to outlive both a son and a daughter-in-law.