Nigerian Funerals: Customs, Ceremony & What to Expect | Cake Blog (2023)

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In Nigeria, Christian, Muslim, and traditional African funeral beliefs come together. In the most populous country in Africa, you may be more important dead than alive.

At the heart of Nigeria are funerals. Nigerians believe their deceased family becomes an ancestor when they die. From lavish meals to dancing pallbearers and animal sacrifices, no expense is saved to plan a Nigerian burial. Funerals are so important that families save up for their loved one's burial instead of medical expenses.

Jump ahead to these sections:

  • How Nigerians View Death and Dying
  • Traditions for a Nigerian Funeral Ceremony
  • Etiquette at a Nigerian Funeral
  • Burial and Remembering the Dead in Nigeria

Nigeria is home to over 250 ethnic groups. Each group has its own beliefs and traditions. The country is split between Christians and Muslims. Nigerians may go to church or pray, but they also introduce African music and ritual into their daily life.

Whether you're curious about Nigerian funerals or are attending the death of a loved one in Africa, keep reading to learn more.

Virtual funeral tip: If you're planning a hybrid or fully virtual Nigerian funeral, you can still include many of the traditions and customs included below. Working with a specialized service like GatheringUs will help you incorporate these details.

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How Nigerians View Death and Dying

Nigerian Funerals: Customs, Ceremony & What to Expect | Cake Blog (1)

Nigerian’s are influenced by Muslim and Christian religions. They believe that when you die, God will judge your soul and you will be released to heaven. Traditional Nigerians believe in reincarnation.

At a Nigerian funeral, you may find a woman buried in a traditional metal casket. She may have had her abdomen cut open before burial because she was infertile. In this way, traditional religion practices blend with local religions.

Nigerians’ belief systems depend on the tribe. The list of tribes, belief systems, and cultural differences between tribes is long, but there are three main tribes. To understand the Nigerian funeral will depend on the specific tribe, but getting to know these main three is a good place to start.

Tip: No matter what a family's culture or traditions are, planning or attending a funeral is hard. So, too, are the many other tasks you might face after the death of a loved one. If you'd like some help and guidance through the process, check out our post-loss checklist.

  • Hausa-Fulani: The Hausa and Fulani tribes make up over 36 percent of Nigeria’s population. Often marriage links exist between these Northern tribes. These tribes are Muslim. For Muslims, death is not the end. Life on earth is a test in preparation for the afterlife. Fulfillment of religious duties like fasting, giving zakat or donations, and prayer lead to a beautiful afterlife.
  • Yoruba: The second-largest tribe in Nigeria adds up to 15 percent of the population. Tribe members are Christians or Muslims. The Yoruba focus on ancestors in the burial rituals. Like in Christianity and Islam, traditional Yoruba religions believe that death is not the end of life. They believe in reincarnation within the family. The deceased will come back to life as a newborn child in the same family.
  • Igbo: Like the Yoruba tribe, the Igbo form 15 percent of Nigeria’s population. The Igbo tribe has the largest population of Christians in Nigeria. Igbo people believe the afterlife is filled with ancestors. Their loved one can only reincarnate if correct burial traditions are followed.

Most Nigerians believe in an afterlife. Nigerians may struggle with reconciling death with their religion and tribal traditions.

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Traditions for a Nigerian Funeral Ceremony

The biggest life event in Nigeria is a funeral. Funerals come with either celebration or mourning. If all burial customs aren’t followed, family members fear that their loved one won’t be an ancestor and they will haunt the living instead.

Funerals are the focal point for family members to gather. They strengthen the community in remembrance of loved ones. Immediate and extended family and the community are expected to pay these high costs. Many families choose to take out a loan. In small villages, funeral costs can lead families further into poverty.

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Posters are printed to announce the death of a loved one. Some families choose to hire performers for entertainment. Also, sewing expensive clothes for the deceased and immediate family is common. Traditional customs include animal sacrifice, elaborate feasts, and dancing. Often, you will find a mix of traditional African and religious customs at a Nigerian ceremony.

The type of burial a Nigerian person will receive depends on the life they led when they died, and the religion they followed. Depending on the tribe, Muslim or Christian burial practices are followed. Careful attention is given to follow any wishes of the deceased. If wishes aren’t followed, Nigerians believe the spirit may not make it to the afterlife.

Pre-funeral customs

Nigerian tribes have different pre-funeral customs with some similarities. Most Nigerians aren’t cremated. Cremation is forbidden in both Islam and traditional African religions. It disrupts reincarnation and prevents the deceased from reuniting with their ancestors.

There is usually a period of mourning. Some bodies are buried right away while others are taken to the mortuary to await burial. The Yoruba people wait from a month up to a year to save up for the expense. The Igbo tribe buries deceased within two days and then saves up for a lavish second burial after.

The Hausa-Fulani tribe follows Muslim customs. Muslim bodies are not embalmed or cremated. They are washed and draped with a burial shroud before burial. As soon as a Muslim dies their face is turned toward Mecca—Islam’s holiest city. Unlike Christian services, Muslims bury their loved ones as soon as possible.

Typical order of service

There is no typical order of service among the Nigerian people. Services are unique to each tribe and influenced by Christian or Muslim funerals. The service may be elaborate or simple and parts of the Bible or Quran are read. People praise ancestors through song and dance.

The Igbo funeral service is an example of the strong community ties that exist between tribe members. They choose the day of their service based on the likelihood of attendance. The service shows the importance of celebrating the deceased as they take their ancestral place in the afterlife. Below is an example of an Igbo order of service:

  • All the guests eat and drink at a night vigil preceding the ceremony. The vigil is as elaborate as the memorial service with traditional performers and songs.
  • If the family is Christian, the body is moved to a church and part of the ceremony is lead by a pastor in a Christian ceremony.
  • The deceased is moved back into the village. A prayer to the dead is made by a medicine man to make sure the spirit will cross over.
  • Various animal sacrifices are performed. A dog is killed in the iwa nkita anya sacrifice before burial. The blood of other animals is poured into the earth for the deceased.
  • A drum announces the lowering of the remains and prayers are said to lay the deceased to rest.
  • Women can add sand into the remains or the limb of a goat is put into the grave.

The Igbo believe the spirit of the deceased is only at rest after the second burial. This is a celebration for the family to remember the dead. To modernize funerals, the Christian church put into place restrictions on Igbo customs like animal sacrifices.

Dancing, songs, and hymns

Funeral songs and performances are based on religious and traditional customs. You may hear traditional songs like “Amazing Grace” at an Igbo church service. At a Yoruba ereisinku or “funeral play” you will hear ethnic drums.

Performances are a symbol of status. Families often hire expensive bands to sing and dance throughout the village. They are also a tribute to the deceased. Family members worry that without these multi-day performances, the deceased will be unhappy. Then their spirit won't cross over or they won't be able to become an ancestor.

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For Muslims, the prayer continues three, seven, and 40 days after death. The Yoruba people don’t bury the deceased for two to three days while they make arrangements. Their funeral services last a week.

The Christian church put restrictions on the Igbo people. They have to bury their deceased within two weeks. Igbo funerals usually only last a few days and the festivities are reserved for a second burial.

Etiquette at a Nigerian Funeral

Nigerian Funerals: Customs, Ceremony & What to Expect | Cake Blog (2)

Etiquette at a funeral will depend on the location of the family in Nigeria and their religion. You can often expect to follow Christian or Muslims customs.


With so many different customs you may be wondering what to wear. Casual clothing should never be worn to a Nigerian funeral. White is a celebratory color and guests should opt for black or red instead. Women should always cover their hair with a scarf to show respect for the grieving family.

You will find members of the same family wearing similar clothing or aso ebi. Families will choose the same patterned clothes to wear for the service.

Typical mood

The mood of a Nigerian funeral will depend on who the deceased is, how they died, and the type of life they lived. If the deceased had many children and lived a long life you can expect a celebration. For those that died by accident, the mood is somber and celebrations aren’t expected.

The Igbo people view the death of a child as a tragedy not to be celebrated. Families grieve in private for children and adults. They celebrate as elders take their place as ancestors in the afterlife.

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Offering gifts, sympathy cards, and flowers

Donations are most commonly accepted at most traditional and religious services. In the Yoruba culture, money will be collected from relatives to buy food and drink.

Choosing flowers can be tricky. At Islamic funerals, flowers aren’t customary, but you may want to bring a bouquet to a Christian service.

Burial and Remembering the Dead in Nigeria

The deceased are buried in graves accompanied by the ritual sacrifice of an animal. Ceremonies to remember the deceased are practiced even among tribes that identify as Christian or Muslim. The ultimate goal is for the deceased to be memorialized as an ancestor, which only happens if correct rituals are performed. Ritual slaughterings and performances for ancestors happen regularly in traditional tribes.

Expressions of sorrow also last a long time. In traditional Igbo ceremonies, the wives of the dead would go into isolation for two months and weep.

Paying Respects at a Nigerian Funeral

In the Igbo culture, there is a saying⁠—If one person cooks for a group, they eat all the food, but if a group cooks for one person, he will not eat all the food. A Nigerian funeral is the product of its community. You can expect a big party celebrating the deceased’s new life as an ancestor.

It is difficult to define a Nigerian funeral by its customs. As long as you pay attention to the grieving family’s wishes and do some research ahead of time, you'll be prepared to attend.


  1. “Hausa-Fulani.” Harvard Divinity School,
  2. Case, Anna. Garrib, Anu. Mendez, Alicia. Olgiati, Analia. “Paying the Piper: The High Cost of Funerals in South Africa.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, October, 2013,
  3. Smith, J Daniel. “Burials and Belonging in Nigeria: Rural-Urban Relations and Social Inequality in a Contemporary African Ritual.” JSTOR,
  4. “Igbo Proverbs and Meanings.” University of Columbia,
  5. “Yoruba.” Saint Michael’s College,
  6. “Nigerian Society and Culture.” Nigerian Embassy,
  7. “The Bright Continent: African Art History.” Pressbooks,
  8. “The World Fact Book.” Central Intelligence Agency,
  9. “Nigeria Factsheet.” United States Embassy in Nigeria,
  10. Izunwa, Maurice. “Anthropological Critique of Some Burial Ceremonies in Nigeria Cultures.” Nnamdi Azikiwe University,


How do Nigerians celebrate funerals? ›

Traditional customs include animal sacrifice, elaborate feasts, and dancing. Often, you will find a mix of traditional African and religious customs at a Nigerian ceremony. The type of burial a Nigerian person will receive depends on the life they led when they died, and the religion they followed.

What rituals and customs are involved in the funeral? ›

The funeral usually includes a ritual through which the corpse receives a final disposition. Depending on culture and religion, these can involve either the destruction of the body (for example, by cremation or sky burial) or its preservation (for example, by mummification or interment).

What color do Africans wear to funerals? ›

While black is the traditional color worn by mourners in the United States, red and white are more commonly seen at funerals in Africa.

Why do African cultures wear white to funerals? ›

Beyonce again weaves The South and Africa together, “wearing all white to the funeral.” In many African cultures, white represents death, not black, and in southern states, it's becoming more common to wear white to funeral services.

What happens during a traditional funeral? ›

A traditional funeral ceremony will include a sermon from the priest, readings from the Bible, prayers, and hymns. A sermon or homily is a speech given by the priest after scripture has been read. The Priest will provide insight into the scripture readings and will relate it to the life of the deceased in some manner.

What happens at traditional funerals? ›

Traditional funerals include a service, often held in a church, the funeral home, crematorium, or at the burial site. There may be verses or poetry read, songs sung, and someone – an officiant or perhaps a religious official – will say a few words.

What is the first thing that happens at a funeral? ›

A wake, also known as a reception, is where mourners gather to reflect on the life of their loved one. It normally happens straight after a cremation or burial and can be held at a family home or other appropriate venue.

What are the things given out at funerals? ›

Common elements of a funeral program are the funeral program order of service, obituary, life sketch or tribute, family members, as well as other personalized elements such as favorite poems, scriptures, quotes and even personalize letters and notes.

What was the most important part of the funeral ceremony? ›


Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived.

What does wearing yellow to a funeral mean? ›

"Wearing Yellow to a Funeral" is a joke song in Six the Musical. It is performed by Anne Boleyn and is brought up after Don't Lose Ur Head, however, Anne is cut off before even finishing the first line. The title is a reference to how Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn both wore yellow following Catherine of Aragon's passing.

What does yellow mean at a funeral? ›

Red, Dark: grief, love, sorrow. White: humility, innocence, purity, reverence, spirituality, youthfulness (often used at the funerals of children) Yellow: devotion, friendship, loyalty.

What are mourning colors? ›

Black is considered the mourning color, although historically it was white. Widows may wear purple when mourning the death of their spouse.

What does wearing white to a funeral mean? ›

White is a color of mourning across the globe

Clean, white shirts are usually worn with suits, and funeral flowers are usually white too. In Medieval times, white was worn together with black when honoring lost lives. Buddhists wear white to funerals as a symbol of mourning, and respect to the deceased person.

What color flower is appropriate for funeral? ›

White flowers are the most commonly present at funerals. This traditional color choice represents honor, peace, and innocence. Pink is considered a respectful color choice, used to express gentleness and sympathy. Red flowers symbolize love, as well as beauty and strength.

What happens if you wear white to a funeral? ›

While black is still the most popular choice of clothing for attending a funeral in most settings, wearing white can be done without fear of offending. Sometimes, the deceased's family asks their guests to wear a particular color to honor their loved ones.

What are the 3 parts of a funeral? ›

A traditional funeral service typically has four components. They are the visitation, funeral ceremony, committal service, and a funeral reception. The family may decide to have more than one visitation at different times or just one.

What is the order of service at a funeral? ›

This funeral order of service contains tradition elements of a funeral service such as musical prelude, scriptures, prayers, an obituary reading, musical selections, acknowledgements and a eulogy.

What are the 4 purposes of the funeral? ›

The Purpose of a Funeral Service

Funerals allow us to say goodbye. Funerals offer continuity and hope for the living. Funerals provide a support system for us, friends, family members and the community. Funerals allow us to reflect on the meaning of life and death.

Who walks in first at a funeral? ›

The officiant (and the choir, if there is one) leads the procession in for religious services, while the celebrant or funeral director usually leads secular (non-religious) processions. The coffin follows, with honorary pallbearers in front of it if there are any.

What comes after a funeral ceremony? ›

A funeral reception is a post-funeral gathering where friends and family members can come together to celebrate and remember the life of their loved one. The reception typically follows immediately after the funeral service.

Who should speak first at a funeral? ›

The speech is ideally given by someone who knew the person well enough to gather and share memories and highlights of his/her life. Sometimes the choice is obvious within the family. There is often one person who seems to be the unofficial family spokesperson.

Why do they cover the legs in a casket? ›

Though covering the legs during a funeral is a unique burial ritual, in reality, it stems from your preferences in holding the ceremony for the deceased. All caskets do not cover legs, and you can plump for a half-couch(half open) or full-couch(full open) one, depending on how you wish to show the body in the casket.

What is the end of a funeral called? ›

4) Funeral Reception

It is common for families to have a social gathering after the committal service with food and refreshments. It offers the family a chance to thank guests for attending, and for everyone to share memories and provide support to each other.

What is best to bring to a funeral? ›

Flowers, sympathy cards, custom keepsakes, and donations are all appropriate gifts to bring to a funeral. While a gift is certainly not required, it can be a thoughtful way to communicate your love for those grieving. Flower and plant arrangements can often be sent to the funeral home prior to the service.

What's the hardest part of a funeral? ›

The 10 Hardest Parts of the Funeral Industry
  • One. The Silence. Silence is the voice of death. ...
  • Two. The Money. Aside from the silence, tallying up the bill is always difficult for me. ...
  • Three. Flirting. ...
  • Four. Tragic deaths. ...
  • Five. Transference. ...
  • Six. Morticians not Magicians. ...
  • Seven. The Night Calls. ...
  • Eight. Meeting Our Own Demons.
13 Sept 2016

How do you start a funeral ceremony? ›


Family and friends, I welcome you into this gathering which is made sacred with the spirit of love and friendship you bring to this gathering. On behalf of Elizabeth's family I would like say “thank you” so very much, to all of you who have come to be with them today.

Why are funerals 3 days after death? ›

Historically, funerals had to take place after just a matter of days, because of decomposition. With today's preservation methods, families have a bit more time to prepare and get affairs in order. This helps families make arrangements, and to pick a day to hold the funeral.

What should a woman wear to a funeral? ›

Most common funeral etiquette practices for women to wear include a dark or black skirt suit or pantsuit; a skirt of appropriate length or pants and a top with sleeves, a blouse, or a sweater; flats or pumps. In some cultures, and religions women wear hats to funerals.

What does blue mean at a funeral? ›

There's significance behind the color of funeral flower you choose to send to a funeral or memorial service: Red flowers signify strength, respect, devotion and love. Blue flowers represent sadness, sympathy and peace.

What do you wear to a funeral in 2022? ›

All things considered, black or any other dark-coloured dress is always appropriate. Make sure to consider the location and weather of the funeral service and consult with the family member of the deceased if you need some specific advice.

What flower is best for a funeral? ›

Lilies - An elegant choice, white lilies are the most popular type of funeral flowers, representing peace, grace, and dignity. Daisies - Daisies, either white or more colorful, are a popular choice for bulking up funeral arrangements featuring other flowers.

What flower do you give when someone dies? ›

They are the most widely accepted form of condolence and are commonly sent as sympathy offerings because they signify peace, purity and love. Consider sending white bouquets with orchids, roses, irises, or lilies to a bereavement ceremony to show your love and support.

What flower symbolizes loss of a loved one? ›

Pink carnations send thoughts of remembrance. The chrysanthemum, or mum, makes a wonderful choice when mourning with a family that has ties to Europe or Asia. China, Korea and Japan use white chrysanthemums to symbolize grief.

What do you put on your door when someone dies? ›

A wreath is a circular arrangement of flowers and other greens. It's intended to be hung on a door or another object. Similar to black ribbon symbolism, wreaths often indicate that a family is in mourning.

What is the mourning symbol? ›

A black ribbon is a symbol of remembrance or mourning. It is often worn or put on a public display to express consolation.

What does yellow mean when someone dies? ›

In Egypt, yellow and gold were used in mourning. Mummies wore gold masks and the color came from the sun and its constant presence. Mexico and Ethiopia attribute yellow as a color of mourning also.

Can I wear jeans to a funeral? ›

Can you wear jeans to a funeral? Bottom line: jeans are not appropriate for a funeral. Unless the family requests them, you should avoid wearing denim to a funeral. However, if it's a casual, outdoor service, you can consider a dark (almost black denim) paired with a button-down shirt and blazer.

What culture wears red to a funeral? ›

In some cultures, red is the preferred color to wear to funerals. In South Africa and Ghana specifically, red is very commonly worn to funerals. In South Africa, red is considered the color of mourning as it represents the blood spilled during the Apartheid era.

What color shirt should you wear to a funeral? ›

What is appropriate clothing for a funeral? Traditionally, funeral etiquette suggests men and women wear black clothing that's conservative and respectful. Black or dark colours are most common, but some cultures expect mourners to wear a less traditional funeral colour.

What do white roses mean at a funeral? ›

White roses evoke reverence, humility, innocence, and youthfulness. Red roses convey respect, love, and courage. Pink roses signify love, grace, appreciation and gentility. Dark crimson roses denote grief and sorrow.

What should you not say at a funeral? ›

Seven Things You Should Never Say at Funerals
  • “He/She Deserved to Die” ...
  • “It Could be Worse” ...
  • “It was Destiny” ...
  • “Everything Happens for a Reason” ...
  • “At Least…” ...
  • “You're Still Young” ...
  • “It's Better…”
2 Oct 2021

What color should you avoid at a funeral? ›

Wearing dark grey or deep blue is just as appropriate as black, while brown and lighter greys are suitable for the vast majority of funeral services. However, unless specifically requested by the deceased or their family, you should avoid any bright colors such as yellows, oranges, pinks, and reds.

Why shouldn't you wear new clothes to a funeral? ›

At some point in history, a solid portion of the population believed: It was bad luck to wear anything new to the funeral, especially shoes. If rain falls during a funeral procession or if there is thunder during a burial, it's a sign the deceased is destined for heaven.

› blog › etiquette-and-advice ›

When it comes to funerals, most people expect to wear black. Dark colors show deference to the family and sorrow over the loss. Gray, navy blue, and brown tones...
Funerals are somber occasions, and you should respect this atmosphere with appropriate attire. Funeral attire should generally be darker colored and conservativ...
In many parts of the world, black is traditionally the colour of death, mourning and funeral fashion, but it is not the universal colour of mourning everywhere....

Do Nigerians have funerals? ›

Diverse histories and traditions surround funerals and burials in Nigeria. Many ethnic groups have exstensive guidelines and prescriptions for what constitutes a fitting burial. These often depended on the cause of death, the age of the deceased and their position in society.

What do Africans do at funerals? ›

The deceased is carried to the graveyard.

Along the way, coins and cowries are given as offerings to the deceased for whatever may be needed while traveling in the afterlife. Before burial, these are removed by the family. Dirges with powerful messages about life, women, and families are sung.

What is the African tradition when someone dies? ›

In traditional African thought of death, the grieving process is characterized by rituals such as the bereaved family members shav- ing their hair, and the slaughtering of a domestic animal. Different rituals are performed depending on who is the deceased and how they have died.

What are African American funerals like? ›

It's a chance for family and friends to pay their respects in a less structured fashion. The funeral will follow, usually in a funeral chapel or a church. The celebration is often quite large, with lots of guests. Black families often hold funerals on Saturday, allowing as many people as possible to attend.

Why do Nigerians scar their face? ›

Facial scarification was once popular across Nigeria. Deep cuts, usually on both cheeks or the forehead, were carved on children by families and communities, mostly as a mark of identity. The marks also held stories of pain, reincarnations and beauty.

What do you wear to an African funeral? ›

Attire for African funerals is very formal, with many people opting to buy new clothes and shoes or wearing their Sunday church outfits. Women tend to prefer all black, possibly with a dash of white or red, while men wear black or navy suits. The wearing of either a black, blue or white shirt with a suit is acceptable.

What is the number one cause of death in Nigeria? ›

Main causes of death in Nigeria 2019
CharacteristicShare of deaths
Ischemic heart disease4.37%
Congenital birth defects3.26%
6 more rows
5 Sept 2022

What are the 4 purposes of the funeral? ›

The Purpose of a Funeral Service

Funerals allow us to say goodbye. Funerals offer continuity and hope for the living. Funerals provide a support system for us, friends, family members and the community. Funerals allow us to reflect on the meaning of life and death.

Why do people give money during funerals? ›

Arranging a funeral comes at a cost and if the family cannot afford this, then giving money to help defray the costs will be much appreciated. The handing over of this money should be done in conjunction with the family spokesperson, before the funeral. This allows the money to be used to pay for immediate expenses.

Why do wear black to a funeral? ›

Why do people wear black to funerals? Nowadays, in much of the western world, wearing black to a funeral is the most common color and is considered a sign of respect. However, the tradition actually dates back to the ancient Romans, when mourners would adopt a darker colored Toga to show they were in mourning.

What is the ceremony called after death? ›

Funeral is a ceremony that is used to remember, honor and sanctify the dead. Depending on the culture, there are various different ways that can be used to celebrate life of the deceased.

How long do you wear black after someone dies? ›

The immediate family members of the deceased wear black for an extended time. Since the 1870s, mourning practices for some cultures, even those who have emigrated to the United States, are to wear black for at least two years, though lifelong black for widows remains in some parts of Europe.

Why is 40 days after death important? ›

It is believed that the soul of the departed remains wandering on Earth during the 40-day period, coming back home, visiting places the departed has lived in as well as their fresh grave. The soul also completes the journey through the Aerial toll house finally leaving this world.

What do black people call the meal after a funeral? ›

The post-funeral meal is often called the “repass” though it is actually a repast or feast.

Who pays for dinner after funeral? ›

Typically, family members of the deceased will sponsor the meal. When financial issues are present, the family may request a donation from the attendees. Agreeing on who pays for the repast meal is essential. The post-funeral luncheon can easily exceed $2,000.

Why do Africans wear black and red at funerals? ›

The Red cloth is often worn by close relatives to show how deeply they feel about the loss of their loved one. The Black cloth is worn by distant relatives and well-wishers who come to mourn with the family. This shows that they are grieving and feel the pain of the family as if it were their own.


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