Party like a South Africa // Tombstone Unveiling


In addition to July 4th being the day of Independence in America, it was also my family’s TOMBSTONE UNVEILING! (also, follow me on Instagram for my Fourth of July post hehe @morganleestoner)

What is a Tombstone Unveiling, you ask?

In South African culture, when someone dies they are buried in a rudimentary grave with rocks and a place-holder tombstone, but sometime after the death, the family buys a tombstone and unveils it. Unlike American funerals, which can be a somber affair, South African funerals and Tombstone Unveilings are straight-up parties.

Recipe for a great Tombstone Unveiling:

  • 500 plus guests (some of whom just show up because they see a party happening, and that’s totally okay because, in SA, invites are NOT required)
  • Enough food to feed said guests (including the ceremonial slaughtering of a cow)
  • Alcohol (they actually spend days brewing their own African beer)
  • DJ and dancing

I spent 30 minutes talking to my supervisor about the reasoning behind tombstone unveilings, and this is what I gathered (I’m still kinda confused): Maybe the family is waiting for the coffin to be built. Coffin stealing is pretty common in South Africa so apparently waiting a year lessens that chance? Maybe initially the family couldn’t afford a tombstone when the person died. A Tombstone Unveiling is also a show of wealth because some families splurge on large, ornate tombstones. A common theory: If you don’t spend money, you don’t love the deceased.

Women are usually in charge of everything but the meat.
I literally have no idea what this is… nose? brain?
Post ceremonial cow sacrifice.
Men prepare the meat.
Homemade African Beer! (Probably tastes as good as it looks)
The cow head chillin’ in the cooler with the sodas (aka “cold drink”).
This is what pap looks like when it’s ready to eat.
Beets and salad preparation.

We spent the morning at the African Catholic Church and from there, we moved on to the cemetery to unveil the tombstones. My family’s tombstone unveiling was actually for six family members because my mom was most likely trying to save money by having all the unveilings together with one party. After the church and cemetery portion of the day, the party started.

I got permission to take pictures during this service.
Unveiling the tomb!
Father blessing the new tomb.

There’s a group called a “TROPA”. I’m not sure exactly what they do, but they come to all funerals and tombstone unveilings. They perform traditional military type ceremonies with singing and dancing and wear awesome uniforms.

A member of the Tropa.
The full Tropa at the after-party!

I had a quick outfit change for the after-party into my traditional Sepedi dress. It was a huge hit and gogos loved talking to me about it!

One of the three tents used for the party (looks like a wedding tent, yes?)
Men singing Catholic hymns. 

This little cutie had a tube of lipstick in her pocket that she continually applied throughout the party. Adorable!

I hope you guys learned a little more about South African culture, and if you have any more questions, feel free to leave them as a comment!



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