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Nelson Mandela laid to rest: Goodbye Tata. Sleep well

By Robyn Curnow, CNN
December 16, 2013 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela laid to rest in his childhood village
  • Funeral and burial ended 10 days of mourning for South Africa's first black president
  • More than 4,000 people gathered at Mandela's funeral service in a tent in the Qunu hills
  • His family told CNN's Robyn Curnow they believed his spirit was now at home

(CNN) -- Nelson Mandela ached to come home, his family says, and he did so Sunday -- his burial the last part of a long journey that had lasted nearly a century.

The prisoner turned president's funeral in his childhood village of Qunu marked the end of 10 days mourning, during which tribal elders guided Mandela's transition to the afterlife.

The funeral was a final chance for those who knew him best to say goodbye.

Mandela's daughter Maki told me her father had always been a country boy at heart, and wanted to return to his remote farm in the Eastern Cape, one of South Africa's most rural areas.

"Even when my father was in jail, he had the fondest memories of Qunu," she said. "And he really wanted to die here."

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Pointing to a chair in the living room she said: "This is Tata's special chair... he would sit like this, with a cushion here, because he enjoyed looking out into the hills."

Mandela's casket lay in his bedroom overlooking those hills overnight ahead of his funeral. Tribal elders held a vigil and a family prayer service took place Sunday morning.

The state funeral service was held in a huge domed tent, surrounded by cows grazing in the neighboring fields. Inside, 95 candles burned, each representing one year of his life.

Inside that tent -- filled with the sweet scent of white roses and lilies -- the Mandela family shared their grief with some 4,000 guests and television cameras broadcasting the service to the world.

Friends and family mourned alongside heads of state, royalty and celebrities who had made their way along South Africa's back roads to Mandela's burial place.

As well as being about family and loss, the state funeral was a mixture of power and politics, of belonging and belief.

Mandela had a canny knack of building relationships and among those at his funeral were those who represented the old apartheid order. The great reconciliator continued to bring people together in death, just as he had in life.

Mandela's burial, however, was private. A few hundred mourners walked up the hills where he had played as a child to say goodbye.

Remembering Nelson Mandela
Three helicopters fly over the grave site of former South African President Nelson Mandela as his family lays his body to rest in his hometown of Qunu, South Africa, on Sunday December 15. Mandela's body traveled from Pretoria by air to Mthatha in Eastern Cape province, and then by road to Qunu, where was buried Sunday. Mandela died December 5 at his home in Houghton at the age of 95. Three helicopters fly over the grave site of former South African President Nelson Mandela as his family lays his body to rest in his hometown of Qunu, South Africa, on Sunday December 15. Mandela's body traveled from Pretoria by air to Mthatha in Eastern Cape province, and then by road to Qunu, where was buried Sunday. Mandela died December 5 at his home in Houghton at the age of 95.
The funeral of Nelson Mandela
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The funeral of Nelson Mandela The funeral of Nelson Mandela
Not only is Nelson Mandela the former president of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but he is also a father, grandfather and even great-grandfather of a huge family. Mandela has been married three times and has fathered six children. Here he poses with his wife of 15 years, Graca Machel. Not only is Nelson Mandela the former president of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but he is also a father, grandfather and even great-grandfather of a huge family. Mandela has been married three times and has fathered six children. Here he poses with his wife of 15 years, Graca Machel.
Mandela family album
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Photos: Mandela family album Photos: Mandela family album

Mandela's eldest daughter carried a reed mat that was laid on the floor of the grave, evoking the sense Mandela was going to rest on a traditional sleeping mat.

The television coverage turned skyward to catch a flypast of planes and helicopters as Mandela was finally laid to rest, in a grave surrounded by local plants designed to evoke the journey of his life.

Mandela's granddaughter Tukwini said it had been a challenge to organize the funeral in the remote location "but my grandfather was born here."

"This is where my grandfather told us who we were as Mandelas," she explained.

Mandela's family says his spirit is now in Qunu.

Finally, after a life journey that was long, proud and honored, Nelson Mandela is home.

Hamba Kahle Tata. Lala Kahle Tata. Goodbye father. Sleep well.

Read more: Mandela used humor to charm and cajole
Read more: A look inside Mandela's memorial garden
Read more: Nelson Mandela laid to rest in Qunu

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