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Funerals

Funerals in Ghana

How Asantes mourn the Dead

"it could have been any nightclub or wedding hall — except for the T-shirts, posters and CDs bearing the photo of an elegant older woman. The raucous party was, in fact, a funeral for Gertrude Manye Ikol, a 65-year-old nurse from Ghana who had died two months earlier. A few blocks away, guests spilled out of an even more boisterous memorial.

The Irish may be known for their spirited wakes, but Ghanaians have perfected the over-the-top funeral. And in New York City, these parties anchor the social calendar of the fast-growing community of immigrants from that West African nation.

Held nearly every weekend in church auditoriums and social halls across the city, they are all-night affairs with open bars and window-rattling music. While the families are raising money to cover funeral expenses, teams of flourishing entrepreneurs — disc jockeys, photographers, videographers, bartenders and security guards — keep it all humming while turning a tidy profit.

There may or may not be a body present, or a clergyman. The beliefs expressed may be evangelical Christian, Roman Catholic or secular. The deceased may have died in New York or in Africa, a few days or a few months earlier. But the funerals all serve the same ends — as festive fund-raisers for bereaved families and as midnight reunions for Ghanaian nurses, students, scientists and cabdrivers looking to dance off the grind of immigrant life in New York.

“To us it’s a celebration, but to an American they see it as a place of sadness,” Manny Tamakloe, 27, an aircraft mechanic, shouted over the music as he sipped a Guinness at Mrs. Ikol’s funeral. “If you’re Ghanaian and you come here, you’ll see 10 or 12 people you know and they’ll introduce you to somebody. And before you know it, you know everybody.”

“Why go to the bar,” he asked, “when you can come here and get it for free?






BURIAL RITUALS AMONG THE KONKOMBA PEOPLE OF NORTHERN GHANA

The study's aim was to analyze the rituals of the first funeral among the Konkomba people (which have to be distinguished from the rituals of the so-called second funeral). The presentation is limited to a description and analysis of burial rituals of elderly people. The article was based mainly on the results of ethnological field studies conducted among the Konkomba people in the region of Saboba. The studies had been carried out among five tribes: Bichabob, Nakpantiib, Binalob, Bimonkpom, and Bigbem. The important literature of the subject includes the publications by the British social anthropologist David Tait and by the French colonial administrator in northern Togo 1940-1948), Jean-Claude Froelich. Among the nonliterate peoples of Africa an important social and religious role is played by rituals of passage, which are connected with a change of a person's status and social position. Such rituals take place e.g. after death of a member of a community. Among the Konkomba people the first funeral consists of burial, the purifying rites, and the rites of farewell to the dead person. The burial takes place on the day of the death or the next day (because of climatic conditions). Since the 1960s - under the influence of Christianity - the tribes of Bichabob and Nakpantiib have used coffins for their burials. Members of the tribes of Binalob, Bimonkpom and Bigbem are still buried without coffins. When elderly people are buried, the number of participants in the burial ranges from 200 to 500 people. The farewell to elderly people is accompanied by big drums, dances and songs. When an unexpected death of people in their prime or children takes place, there is no dancing or singing. The body of the dead person is prepared in a hut by the ritual partners and relatives for the burial. There are some differences between preparation of a woman and man's body. After that, three or four men say farewell to the dead, uttering certain words and using water. The ritual is finished with filling up the grave of rectangular shape. A traditional grave with a round hole is closed with a big pot and covered with earth. The period of mourning of the first funeral lasts three days in case of a man's death and four - in case of a woman's death. Funeral rituals play an important social and religious role among the African peoples. The burial rituals of older men and women differ in the richness of rites and the social significance from the simpler burials of adults, children and infants. They emphasize the changing of the status of the dead person, who was temporarily excluded from the society through his/her death. Rites do away with the negative consequences of the death and make it possible for the deceased to pass from the community of the living to the community of the dead. They also help an individual and the community in accepting the new state.


FUNERALS AMONG EWES

They may take part in the funeral, however, once the corpse is buried or inside the coffin. They are not to have any contact with the corpse. Traditionally, the Ewe religion is organized around a creator god/goddess, Mawu/Lisa. This god is believed to be all powerful and omnipresence. There are no shrines or devotional ceremonies because of this omnipresent belief. Instead the people practice religion through lower level divinities. Se is a word for law, order and harmony and is believed to be the maker and keeper of human souls. Se also mean destiny.

Yewe is the god of thunder and lightning. When someone is initiated into Yewe, the person’s old name becomes a taboo.

Afa is the astral god of divination, also the younger brother of Yewe. Members of this religion do not get new names. They keep their birth names. Performances are at the forefront of devotional activities for Afa. Both members and non-members celebrate Afa together. However, the non-member must wear white clothing and must not dance next to a member unless at a funeral. If these rules were not observed properly, non-members would be fined.

Other religious divinities are Eda, Nana, Mamiwota, etc.

Traditionally, funerals are extravagant events incorporating a multitude of events over a month. Funerals are the most likely places to see colorful performances of dance-drumming groups. A lively and spectacular performance usually follows the life of an honorable member of the community. Sometimes distant family members may even commission performances months after death if they could not be present at the actual funeral.



BURIAL RITUALS AMONG THE KONKOMBA PEOPLE OF NORTHERN GHANA

The study's aim was to analyze the rituals of the first funeral among the Konkomba people (which have to be distinguished from the rituals of the so-called second funeral). The presentation is limited to a description and analysis of burial rituals of elderly people. The article was based mainly on the results of ethnological field studies conducted among the Konkomba people in the region of Saboba. The studies had been carried out among five tribes: Bichabob, Nakpantiib, Binalob, Bimonkpom, and Bigbem. The important literature of the subject includes the publications by the British social anthropologist David Tait and by the French colonial administrator in northern Togo 1940-1948), Jean-Claude Froelich. Among the nonliterate peoples of Africa an important social and religious role is played by rituals of passage, which are connected with a change of a person's status and social position. Such rituals take place e.g. after death of a member of a community. Among the Konkomba people the first funeral consists of burial, the purifying rites, and the rites of farewell to the dead person. The burial takes place on the day of the death or the next day (because of climatic conditions). Since the 1960s - under the influence of Christianity - the tribes of Bichabob and Nakpantiib have used coffins for their burials. Members of the tribes of Binalob, Bimonkpom and Bigbem are still buried without coffins. When elderly people are buried, the number of participants in the burial ranges from 200 to 500 people. The farewell to elderly people is accompanied by big drums, dances and songs. When an unexpected death of people in their prime or children takes place, there is no dancing or singing. The body of the dead person is prepared in a hut by the ritual partners and relatives for the burial. There are some differences between preparation of a woman and man's body. After that, three or four men say farewell to the dead, uttering certain words and using water. The ritual is finished with filling up the grave of rectangular shape. A traditional grave with a round hole is closed with a big pot and covered with earth. The period of mourning of the first funeral lasts three days in case of a man's death and four - in case of a woman's death. Funeral rituals play an important social and religious role among the African peoples. The burial rituals of older men and women differ in the richness of rites and the social significance from the simpler burials of adults, children and infants. They emphasize the changing of the status of the dead person, who was temporarily excluded from the society through his/her death. Rites do away with the negative consequences of the death and make it possible for the deceased to pass from the community of the living to the community of the dead. They also help an individual and the community in accepting the new state.