Death in the African tradition is a complicated process. The process of Death encompasses magic and gods and chieftains and communities, matrilineal and patrilineal lines, the elder’s wisdom and the strength of younger people in the villages, all play a part in the rituals of leaving the living world.
In African folklore, there are different levels of death and it is usually preceded metaphorically by some misfortune. One African proverb ascribes death as a moment of reflection for the living…. “When I think of the others’s misfortunes, I forget mine.”
What is integral in the African death tradition is ancestral worship. This, more than anything else, has been lost, over the centuries.
Suicide by Cut Throat – November 15th., 1949
There was a time in history when the church could refuse to conduct funeral services for anyone who died, by their own hand, with a purposeful intent. Suicide was deemed a mortal sin, irregardless of circumstances or mental state of the deceased. On 15th November, 1949 at the Business Warehouse on Dowdswell Street in Nassau, Mr. Arthur Henry Fountain decided to commit suicide at work. Poor, distraught Arthur was 55 years old at the time of his death. He was born in the year 1894. Arthur’s service of last rites was conducted at the mortuary. His interment was a quick, just two days later, Arthur Henry Fountain, was laid to rest in the Western Cemetery on the 17th November, 1949.
Young Prison Officer Killed At Work – 17th February, 1960, 4:30 pm.
Samuel Otis King, a prison overseer at Her Majesty’s Fox Hill Prison, was just 18 years, 10 months and 27 days old, when he was stabbed in the back, at the prison where he worked. Born on the 21st. March, 1941 in Dumfries, Cat Island, young Samuel, barely just a kid himself, died at approximately 4:30 pm on 17th February, 1960 from internal bleeding caused by a knife wound.
To the credit of the prison service, the cost of extras for the funeral was paid for by HM Prisons. The cost of funeral extras came up to some £40:0:0
Prison Officer, 18 year old, Samuel Otis King, was survived by his mother Winifred and father Octavius both from Cat Island.
Cancer of the Penis – 26th., January 1960, 10:20 am
Treatment for cancer, of any and all descriptions, was scant in the early 1900s. Consider the plight of poor negroes, from the Over The Hill area of East Street, without access to the advanced medicine and treatments available today.
Bishop Hermis Abiel Ferguson, aged 61 years, 3 months and 24 days, died at home from cancer of the penis, at 10:20 a.m. on 26 January, 1960. Bishop Ferguson was born in 1898 in Colonel Hill, Crooked Island. He was the son of Mr. Javin A. Ferguson and Mrs. Eliza Ferguson. He left a wife Isadora Ferguson and daughter Unice Simmons of East Street.
Hermis Abiel Ferguson was laid to rest after a mournful service at Church of God on 31st. January 1960.
Mr. Lea Fat – So Far From Home – Canton China to Mackey Street South, Nassau 1953
Pneumonia was the disguised killer of human beings for centuries. A simple cough, one moment, could turn deadly in a matter of days, if not hours. For 56 year old Mr. Lea Fat, of Mackey Street, Nassau, but originally from Canton China, bronchiole pneumonia and toxaemia became fatal for him on March 9th. 1953.
There were two hospitals, in the mid 1900s, in Nassau. The Prospect Hospital, once called the Lazaretto because it was used treat the more debilitating diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis and cancers.
Mr. Lea Fat died at 3:30 am on 9th March 1953 and was buried on the same day in St. Mary’s Cemetery. Mr. Fat was a laundryman by profession.
Pulmonary Tuberculosis – Mr. Lee Fong 1956
Tuberculosis was a wasting disease. Tuberculosis (TB) is highly infectious and mainly affects the lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis were spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes. Treatment, in addition to bed rest and clean air, some patients had their lungs collapsed or surgically resected (partially removed).
Between 1943 and 1951, new treatments were discovered. A chemical related to aspirin, para-aminosalicylate or PAS, another chemical isonicotinic acid hydrazide or INH, and a compound released by a fungus-like microbe to inhibit other organisms from competing with it in the soil (streptomycin).
By the late 1950s it was observed that if all three drugs were given to TB patients, cure rates of 80-90% could be achieved. However, the side effects and toxicity were ghastly for sufferers and required 18-24 months of long, unpleasant treatment.
Mr. Lee Fong, of an unspecified address in the Bahamas, but originally from Canton, China, died in the Bahamas General Hospital from the terrible disease, pulmonary tuberculosis. His death was arranged by his friend Mr. Louis Chea.
Mr. Lee Fong was interred at 4:30 pm at St. Joseph’s Cemetery. No next of kin was noted.
Hickwood Jervis (infant) Death Caused By Nail Wound to the Back of the Head 1952
Death, by accident or a trauma event at home, was an all too common cause of mortality in children. For Hickwood Jervis, of Nassau Street, just one year and 3 months old, it would be jaundice, caused by an infection from a nail wound to the back of the head, which would tragically end his young life.
Most Jaundice in babies is not harmful and can be treated. However, when a substantial infection, in this case caused by a nail wound injury to the skull, is also present, the combination can be fatal in infants. Bilirubin, which causes jaundice, is a natural by-product of decomposing red blood cells, but when it’s present at dangerous levels, it can cause severe brain damage or even death in an infant.
Baby Hickwood Jervis succumbed to a massive infection at 8:15 am on 17th July 1952. Funeral services were held later that same day at 5:00 pm at Bethel Baptist Church.
Stabbed At Mental Ward Bahamas General Hospital 6:30 am – 1953
31-year-old, Basil Johnson, a negro, was a Customs Officer. Somehow, through the pressures of life and health, Basil found himself committed to the Mental Ward of the government hospital. On March 4, 1953 at 6:30 am. Mr. Johnson died from a mesenteric embolism caused by a deep stab wound. Johnson was probably stabbed in the lower body causing extensive damage to his intestines resulting in a mesenteric embolism.
Whether the wound was self inflicted or not is unknown. If it had been however, the cause of death would have noted as much.
Funerals were conducted with surprising speed in some cases in the 1950s. Basil Johnson died at 6:30 am and was prayed over, cried over and buried by 5:00 pm on 4th March 1953.
Dr. Duck was the attending physician for Mr. Eugene Joseph, a barber originally of Port-de-Paix, Haiti 1960
By 1960, the Bahamas General Hospital had been renamed the Princess Margaret Hospital. On 12th April 1960, under the care of attending physician, Dr. Duck, Mr. Eugene Joseph succumbed to injuries sustained from a fractured skull and laceration to the brain.
Fractures to the skull require the infliction of tremendous force whether by accident, involuntary intent or intent. Mr. Eugene Joseph of East and Deveaux Street, Nassau was 45 years, 4 months and 28 days in the world when he died. He was buried by odd coincidence in St. Joseph’s Cemetery on 14th April, 1960
Was He A Monk? – Cancer of the Prostate and Cancer of the Lung 1957
Andrew Reif lived at the St. Augustine’s Monastery, which was then part of the area called Sandilands Village, Nassau. Today, the area is called Fox Hill. Reid’s profession was listed as a retired painter. A number of men, who had lived their lives, and followed their passions, in their youth, found sometimes found themselves turning to the comfort and solitude, of the church in their latter years.
All that is known of him was that he was white and probably not from the Bahamas. No father or mother’s name are listed. The informant of Andrew Reif’s passing was a priest at the St. Augustine’s Monastery, a Father Frederick Frey.
Andrew Reif died at 11:50 pm on 29th May 1957. He was prayed for, at a very early funeral service, on 1st June, 1957 and the unexpected hour of 8:00 am.
Incomprehensible Trauma inflicted on a three year old negro boy 1949
Ritchie Michael from Chippingham, Nassau, was just 20 days away from his 4th birthday, when he died on August 29th 1949 at 7:00 pm.
Physicians will say that it takes substantial force to lacerate the liver. It can really only happen, if not as a result of extreme end stage disease, after the body has sustained a significant force or trauma. In 1949, in the negro quarters of Nassau, what possible force or trauma could have been visited upon a three-year-old boy to fracture his skull in addition to lacerating his liver? Beatings or corporal punishment, were and still are, prevalent in and across The Bahamas. It is pure speculation, but short of being kicked by a horse or mule or falling down a well, it is not out of the realm of our imagination that this may have been the end result of a severe beating.
Little Ritchie was laid to rest, on 30th August, 1949, less than 24 hours after he died. Services and words of comfort for the bereaved were delivered at the graveside at St. Mary’s Graveyard.