WHEN preserving the memory of a loved one, a lot of decisions have to be made in considering a tombstone.
A number of families have made some rather “strange” gravestone choices, while some have gone all out to remember their dead with dignity. What then is a tombstone? Can you find tombstones in Harare? A tombstone is a stone that is laid over a grave and has an inscription on it showing the name, date of birth, and death of the person buried underneath it.
Some also carry messages, usually small poems or Biblical verses that remind the surviving family of the deceased person. Basically, the main purpose behind installing a headstone on a gravesite is to immortalize the deceased.
A tour of West Park Cemetery in Bulawayo will give one an insight as to what people think about their deceased loved ones. It further gives one an idea of what the deceased treasured most or did for a living.
Eye Catching or Scary?
One stone that catches the eye at West Park is a large headstone of a young boy who died at the age of 10.
The message on the headstone is simple and straight forward but there is also a huge portrait of the late boy. A gravedigger who refused to be named said it was frightening to look at the picture.
“We spend all our time here and this picture freaks us out to be honest. It is like the boy is staring straight into our eyes and it is just weird to see it all the time. At one point I would sleep and see a vision of this boy’s picture. It just used to affect me seriously, maybe it is because I see it often such that I dream of it.”
One mourner who was at the cemetery for the first time last week said she was actually disturbed by some tombstones.
The Lady from Harare
“I stay in Harare and this was my first time here. To be honest, I stopped mourning my late cousin for a while after seeing that headstone. I was drawn back for a while because it was scary and it sent shivers down my spine,” said Mrs. Abigail Makoni. Yet there are tombstones in Harare. She said the dead have to be respected and putting a picture seemed rather strange for her. “A cemetery is a public place and people should not be mortified by seeing pictures of dead people,” she added.
This tombstone with a picture is one of the many at the cemetery that turns heads. Late former High Court judge Washington Sansole who was laid to rest at Lady Stanley Cemetery has an interesting tombstone. The headstone is a sculpture of the scale of justice. The balance scales represent the weighing of evidence in court. From just one look one can tell that there lie the remains of a person involved in the justice delivery system.
Movement for Democratic Change deputy president Ms. Thokozani Khupe’s parents also has large and eye catching tombstones right next to Justice Sansole’s grave. They are huge structures that are like houses without walls, with pictures of the deceased. Many men of the cloth also have tombstones that show what they did when they were alive. Church logos are the most common for pastors and reverends.
Another tombstone similar to that of the Khupes catches one’s eye.
The stone is roofed with corrugated sheets, has glass walls and granite pillars. The bedstone has a red carpet inside and a Bible lies on top of the carpet together with a cooking stick. The “tomb” is kept safe by an iron rod cage locked with two padlocks. The senior public relations officer at the Bulawayo City Council, Mrs. Nesisa Mpofu, confirmed that they have of late seen rather unusual tombstones but have never had to remove them.
“We have seen unusual things here but we have never had to ask a family to remove their tombstones or find better ones,” she said. She added that it was up to the families to choose what they want but urged them to stick to what the council recommends in its regulations. One man from the city had a different view. He said there was no use putting up a tombstone when the person who died probably led a miserable life.
No need for tombstones
“People go and pay hundreds of dollars for a tombstone yet the person they buried was suffering when they were alive. It is better to just put a mound of rocks on top of the grave than waste money,” said Mr. Sibusiso Juma. He said some people want to be extravagant for no apparent reason when it comes to tombstones. Other interesting headstones include Bibles, angels, houses, flowers, greenhouses and many more. Some of the tombstones are sweet and touching. They remind one of the great times people shared with their loved ones. Some have been found to be in bad taste.
The practice of erecting tombstones traces back to ancient times in the Bible. The second book of Kings 23:17 reads, Then he said: “What is that monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.”
Even in those days they used tombstones as markers of where one was buried although they were simple rocks that were used, unlike today. Mr. Stanley Ndlovu, a tombstone maker from Iminyela Flats in Bulawayo, said they use black granite to make the tombstones.
“We source these rocks from Harare because Bulawayo has no black granite so we have to travel to access it in Mabvuku and Chitungwiza,” he said.
He, however, said the business was rather low as the economy was distressed and was forced to give people discounts.
He said one family contracted him to make a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National Heroes’ Acre for a tombstone.
“The family just asked me to make a stone just like the ones at the Heroes’ Acre. I was surprised. After making it I went around West Park to see if there was any Heroes’ Acre type of stone. I discovered it was the first one there,” he said.
He has had people who want to carve the face of the dead person on the tombstone and he does just that. Mr. Ndlovu said as long as it was possible, he would make any stone for his customers.
So, what then?
Some headstone makers spoke to Sunday News. They said that with the rise in thefts of tombstones, people were opting for unique pieces. In other countries, bereaved families have gone the extra mile. They place eye-catching tombstones such as life-size statues of the deceased person or their favorite things. One English BMW enthusiast Steve Marsh who died in 2009 has a shiny black BMW M3 Convertible as his tombstone. The car even features a parking ticket on the windscreen.
His family said all he loved were BMW’s and they could not put anything other than a BMW.
Bizarre headstones may seem in bad taste to others but they communicate a person’s individuality even beyond their physical life.
There you have it! What then, is in a tombstone? Respect, persona, work, affiliations… Tombstones come from these bases! Almodine Homes & Monuments has adopted this article to be part of its blog compilation. We make any tombstone in Harare that the client orders. Check out our Facebook page for more content from us.