October 2, 2015, by Michael Jennings

Explore Caribbean funeral traditions through an award-winning film

Catherine Ross, Founder and Director of SKN Heritage Museum, will be introducing the museum’s first documentary film, Nine Nights, at a special screening of the film at Nottingham Lakeside Arts on Monday 5 October from 6pm as part of our Black History Month 2015 programme of events. The film has already won an award and will be shown as part of NIMFestival 2015 (Nottingham International Microfilm Festival) organised by the Nottingham Screen Partnership. Catherine explains what the film is about in this guest post.

Nine Nights explores the fascinating Caribbean tradition of Nine Nights, the time from a person’s passing to their funeral. It’s an uplifting joyous, jubilant celebration of feasting, singing, dancing and playing games like dominoes. Bringing together friends, family, neighbours and colleagues, for more of a happy reunion than a sad occasion.

As the film shows, a loved one’s passing is one of the most social and celebratory events in a Caribbean’s life, because it’s a time to recognise and celebrate their life, achievements, times shared and what they’ve done for others. Everyone talks happily and excitedly about the person, it’s not about mourning.

Nine Nights features different generations of Caribbeans living in Nottingham explaining funeral traditions from ‘back home’. From helping to wash and dress the body, to friends and family filling in the grave, and the celebration following the funeral, described by one contributor as the ‘after party’. I came to Britain from St Kitts when I was just seven years old, so seeing these traditions live on is something that’s really important to me.

Although these traditions were brought to the UK by the Windrush Generation, the pioneering Caribbeans who made their home in Britain following the Second World War, many of them are thought to originate from African slaves. The term ‘Nine Nights’ refers to the belief that it took nine nights for a slave’s spirit or soul to return to Africa when they passed away in a foreign country.

That’s why, in the Caribbean, and now in the UK, the tradition involves the deceased lying at home for nine nights, to be visited by friends and family, as well as plenty of eating, drinking music and playing games like dominoes. On the ninth night, it’s believed the deceased’s ghost or spirit, or ‘duppy’ in Jamaican patois, leaves their body at midnight, so then the burial can take place the next day.

In conclusion, the film asks how things are changing, as younger generations of British-born Caribbeans are influenced by UK customs, as well as those handed down by their parents and grandparents. Will traditions like Nine Nights survive, or simply become a part of history?

The free screening will be followed by a Q&A with Catherine and special guests and an accompanying exhibition. You can book your place here.

Nine nights screen 800x600

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