Another important episode in Cudjo’s childhood is the death of his grandfather. Cudjo doesn’t remember why his grandfather died, but he knows that he went to his compound for a funeral ceremony. In his grandfather’s village, people are buried right away so that evil spirits can’t harm them. Usually, a person is buried beneath the floor of his own house, so that his family can continue living with him even after his death. Throughout the night, the first wife sits near a symbolic coffin, receives guests, and cries.
This burial practice suggests the family’s deep desire to stay together even after death. When members of his own family die in America, Cudjo assents to the prevailing custom of burying them in a churchyard, but he always feels that they will be lonely. Even though he adopts Christian practices, his values are still rooted in his upbringing.
When Cudjo arrives with his father, all the wives remove their veils to greet him. The first wife cries loudly, saying that “only yesterday he was worried about his wives and chillum and here he lies today in need of nothing.” Cudjo’s father weeps as well, and then they all sit around the coffin, receiving gifts from other visitors. The wives sing traditional songs in praise of the grandfather’s personality and in commemoration of his death. They will be in mourning for two years, during one of which they cannot wash their face.
Cudjo relates—and Hurston records—the complex rituals surrounding grief and mourning. This conveys the sense that African customs are just as thoughtful and developed as those in Europe and America, and represent human feelings that are just as deep—pushing back against arguments that African culture is “primitive” and its people undeveloped.
Hurston notes that Cudjo now has “that remote look in his eyes,” and she knows that he’s done talking for the day. She says politely that she will leave him alone for a while, and Cudjo tells her to come back next week, after he’s cut the grass in his garden. Before she leaves, he gives her some peaches from his tree.
Hurston often ends a chapter by remarking that Cudjo seems emotionally distant from her. Storytelling can increase interpersonal understanding, but it also emphasizes the differences in personal experience.