The Drowning Man Trial

Everyone who loses somebody wants revenge on someone, on God if they can’t find anyone else. But in Africa, in Matobo, the Ku believe that the only way to end grief is to save a life. If someone is murdered, a year of mourning ends with a ritual that we call the Drowning Man Trial. There’s an all-night party beside a river. At dawn, the killer is put in a boat. He’s taken out on the water and he’s dropped. He’s bound so that he can’t swim. The family of the dead then has to make a choice. They can let him drown or they can swim out and save him. The Ku believe that if the family lets the killer drown, they’ll have justice but spend the rest of their lives in mourning. But if they save him, if they admit that life isn’t always just… that very act can take away their sorrow. Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.

The immensely profound paragraph above comes from The Interpreter, one of my favorite movies. You can find the clip here.

A lot of people have been thinking more about the death penalty these days, (thanks in large part to the disgusting nature of all that’s going on in Arkansas this month) and I’m certainly in that crowd. Though I last saw this movie over 6 years ago, this scene has continued to come to my mind as I’ve pondered, searched, and sought out the morality of capital punishment. Not because I plan to directly influence legislation (though I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea some day) but because I believe to my toes it matters how we think about other people. Even, (especially) the people we despise the most. A person’s thoughts on the death penalty draw that out like few other issues being discussed around dinner tables today.

However, in these discussions, the grieving process of the victim’s family often don’t get talked about enough, or at least not talked about well.

If you’re still reading, my question for you today is this:
Does taking the life of a loved one’s killer truly bring the family the closure they’ve been promised?

drowning man trial