"He should stay in the grave": Cultural Patterns in the Interpretation of Near-Death Experiences in African Traditional Religions Page: 203
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GREGORY SHUSHAN, PHD
nated in them. This situation is in marked contrast to that of indige-
nous Native American and Oceanic societies (Shushan 2016, 2018). To
some extent, the difference can be accounted for by religious systems
that focused on the continued influence of ancestor spirits on the liv-
ing rather than on speculation about life in other realms. However, an
analysis of African attitudes towards death in general, and towards
the notion that the dead can return to life, leads to a deeper under-
standing of this tension between afterlife conceptions and NDEs.
Rather than being seen as positive, transformative, spiritual ex-
periences, NDEs were rather more often seen in terms of other dan-
gerous extraordinary phenomena such as possession and evil spirits.
Those who revived from apparent death were often treated with mis-
trust and hostility. Among the Tanala, such a person was immediately
strangled or stoned to death, for it was believed that that the body had
been animated only by the life force, not by the soul (Linton, 1933,
p. 165; Sibree, 1880, p. 291). It is thus unsurprising that although
there are Tanala references to individuals returning from death,
there are no accounts of associated NDEs. The Zulu NDEr described
above was almost put to death on suspicion that he had been revived
by witches (Leslie, 1875, pp. 122-123). When the Akan human sac-
rifice victim returned from unconsciousness, her request to be killed
again was willingly granted (Reade, 1874, p. 362). There was an "un-
speakable horror of a dead body" in South Africa (Kidd, 1904, p. 76),
and a reanimated corpse would have been even more horrific. When
one man awoke during his own funeral, everyone in attendance fled
in terror (Kidd, 1904, p. 247). Individuals who revived in the Khoi-
khoi culture were sent away to "die again" (Lichtenstein, 1812, p. 319).
Congo Zambesi shamans were careful to forewarn their people that
they would revive from apparent death, so that they could begin their
"new existence without trouble" (Melland, 1923, pp. 151-152). When
trying to recount his NDE, the Tumbuka man's words were drowned
out by his people "for he was too uncanny" (Fraser, 1914, p. 126).
In more recent times, a Kongo NDEr reported that when he re-
vived, the mourners gathered around his body fled and that "it took
them hours to accept me again as a member of the living community."
He added that no one is ever "willing to associate or be in the same
company with the dead." A second Kongo NDEr described his wife's
terror at his return and her subsequent fear of him (Bockie, 1993,
pp. 89-90). In a Zambian study, researchers found that NDEs were
believed to result from malign forces, "bad omens," or witchcraft. De-
spite the presence of familiar NDE features, many NDErs themselves
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Sushan, Gregory. "He should stay in the grave": Cultural Patterns in the Interpretation of Near-Death Experiences in African Traditional Religions, article, Summer 2017; Durham, North Carolina. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1505490/m1/19/?q=akan: accessed January 29, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; .