Several African peoples, on the passing of a great man, will avoid the word “death,” preferring the poetic indirection of a mighty tree falling. Mortality is not final in Africa, nor is it for us. Fallen trees regenerate; they still exist, if on a new plane, and remain active. We survivors have grown from the seeds of those trees, whose broad branches in life sheltered councils of elders and provided the fruits we eat and the wood from which we have built our own houses. In much of Africa ancestors are venerated because they are believed to observe and affect the living. Their funerary sendoffs are often quite elaborate festivals for those very reasons—ancestors are not truly and finally dead; rather, they live on a different plane in another world, and often...

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