Meet the Village Elders: Nine Nights

Tuntum is a BME led housing association with strong sense of community purpose - whether it is housing people fleeing catastrophic volcanos or war in Syria, or saving one of the oldest Caribbean carnivals in the UK. Tuntum is proud of its experience of providing integrated sheltered housing services for all members of the community, giving lifelong friends an opportunity to live and die together in friendship and harmony.

In the first of four blogs we wish to share a cultural experience known as Nine Nights with sheltered colleagues across the county, through the experiences of Barbara, Dorothy, and Simon, known by some as the village Elders (even though they are some of the youngest of our residents).

Barbara, who was born in the Caribbean, explains what Nine Nights is:

“Nine Nights is a form of extended wake that lasts for several days, providing an opportunity for families, friends, and support colleagues to reminisce about a recently deceased person, and it’s seen as a time to celebrate the passing of a loved ones. Participants, family, and friends attend with food, drink, and music as well as condolences. Traditionally, Nine Nights celebrations lasted nine nights and days, with the ninth and final night being the night before the funeral service. These events provided friends and family and opportunity to reminiscence about the deceased – with fond memories shared, alongside prayers, games, such as dominos, and singing of hymns.”

The most recent Nine Night celebration was organised by Tuntum staff and family members of the deceased Mr. W who was a popular resident in the scheme for three years. At the request of his children and grandchildren who wanted a culturally appropriate send off for their dad and granddad. Staff and family agreed that three nights of celebration, between 6.30 and 10pm, was appropriate to be held at the scheme with staff on hand to support the event. This meant that many of Mr W’s fellow residents could participate in the celebration.

  • Day one got off to a good start with Caribbean food, deserts, non-alcoholic drinks and a steady trickle of friends, family, and residents.
  • Day two was a livelier event as upbeat gospel music played on the iPod and more friends and families and residents attended.
  • Day three was a great climax to the events, as over 50 guests trooped into the building to pay their last respects in a spirit of celebration and togetherness, and with the introduction of lively afro-beat tunes adding to proceedings.

In all it was a successful truncated Nine Nights.

Simon, a white British man, said he found the Nine Nights to be “a real revelation,” adding: “it was heartening to observe residents from the scheme embracing this Caribbean funerary tradition.” 

Dorothy, a black British woman, told us it felt very joyous to have an opportunity to celebrate a life in conjunction with other residents and family members and friends.

Both Simon and Dorothy feel it would be great if staff in other schemes enabled such Caribbean-style send-offs if this is what the family and friends of the deceased want.

The village elders summarised their experience by saying they found the event helped families to say goodbye to loved ones with joy. It created a space to say a proper goodbye – especially where some of the residents were not able to get to the church service. They found the occasion generous and well catered for, even those residents who couldn’t attend had food taken up to them, and the event created a good spirit of neighbourliness.

We would urge colleagues across the country to engage with all their residents as best as they can - listen and reach out there is so much for us all to learn.

If you would like to find out more about how Tuntum ensures that the cultural needs of its residents are catered for please contact Delores Vassell (Head of Specialist Housing) or Laverne Whyte (Senior Project Worker – Sheltered Housing) on 01159166066 or visit (opens new window)

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