Hallelujah, a ‘bush mechanic’ turned archbishop, gets the funeral he deserves, one of the very biggest in Botswana’s railway town, Palapye. Many churches come together, their robes, splendid, their reverent hymns transcending their separate traditions, their members in their finest suits and dresses. It is a remarkably ecumenical occasion. The archbishop himself preaches, not from the grave but about it, in a DVD he prepared the year before his death, perhaps with some premonition, knowing danger in his own condition.
Avowed aims – glory, beauty, honor – are richly fulfilled in the funeral. From the elaborate display of tender condolences with gorgeous floral wreaths to the costly feasting on the slaughtered cattle, no expense in spared. Yet solemn as much of the funeral is, it also ripples with raucous laughter moment when the ceremonious even sanctimonious surface of social life edges towards the scandalous. Most of the people present know much more about the archbishop than everyone wants said, as they seek to have him ‘Rest in Peace’. They keep their embarrassment under control, even when his wreaths and redemptive candles drop awkwardly from his coffin. ‘Rest in Peace’ is the peculiarly apt joke his cousins share among themselves, walking to the cemetery, for the former ‘bush mechanic’.
"Sinners are black.
they leave with whiteness,
with joy and forgiveness"
so runs the hymn for Hallelujah.
This film illuminates the move through tension and vulnerability in ritual performance, when the occasion focuses on a popular, lovable rascal. Some of his closest kin serve as the outspoken interpreters of his rise and fall as an urban villager, who grew up in the countryside, barely able to write his own name, and learned to manipulate others in the street-smart ways of the railway town.