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Funerals in Africa

Funerals in Africa: Explorations of a Social Phenomenon

Michael Jindra
Joël Noret
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    Funerals in Africa
    Book Description:

    Across Africa, funerals and events remembering the dead have become larger and even more numerous over the years. Whereas in the West death is normally a private and family affair, in Africa funerals are often the central life cycle event, unparalleled in cost and importance, for which families harness vast amounts of resources to host lavish events for multitudes of people with ramifications well beyond the event. Though officials may try to regulate them, the popularity of these events often makes such efforts fruitless, and the elites themselves spend tremendously on funerals. This volume brings together scholars who have conducted research on funerary events across sub-Saharan Africa. The contributions offer an in-depth understanding of the broad changes and underlying causes in African societies over the years, such as changes in religious beliefs, social structure, urbanization, and technological changes and health.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-206-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Jan Vansina

    Funerary rituals fascinate people in most cultures in part because they are so full of contradictions. Nothing is more natural to human life than its cessation, yet nothing is more culturally specific and arbitrary than the disposal of the dead. At certain moments in funerary rituals, the dispositions and funerary techniques in play seem to be as globally standardized as the layout of airport terminals, yet at other moments nothing can be more parochial and better reflect local thought and practice. Hence nothing is more familiar to us and nothing more exotic than funerals elsewhere. Moreover, funerals are about the...

  5. Funerals in Africa: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)
    Michael Jindra and Joël Noret

    In Africa, the events surrounding death are often described as the key cultural events of a particular area. Entire neighborhoods and villages are drawn to them, and family members and friends who have migrated to other areas and countries are lured back. The funeral service and burial may only be a small part of such funerary events. From mourning practices to dancing, drumming, drinking, and eating, the events may, in some regions, involve planning post-funerary activities over many months or years. Many have heard about the tremendous resources funerary events often consume, one example being the fantastically carved and decorated...

  6. CHAPTER 1 African Funerals and Sociocultural Change: A Review of Momentous Transformations across a Continent
    (pp. 16-40)
    Michael Jindra and Joël Noret

    Over the last centuries, sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed a series of broad and linked changes that have inescapably altered its funerary rites. These include alterations of outlook and practice caused both by colonialism and by the large scale adoption of world religions, an overturning of the system of hierarchy in favor of new processes of creating status, increased mobility and pluralism, and the different kinds of associations this mobility produced in the colonial and postcolonial context. The introduction of new technologies such as mortuaries and photography have had major effects on funerary rites, as have social turmoil and disease in...

  7. CHAPTER 2 A Decent Death: Changes in Funerary Rites in Bulawayo
    (pp. 41-68)
    Terence Ranger

    Africanist scholars have often made a distinction between a countryside full of “culture” and townships full of traditional anomie. Indeed, academics and some politicians still assume that Africans in towns are unable to create their own culture.¹ The history of funerary rites in Bulawayo, and in particular the crucialumbuyisoceremony a year or so after death, however, reveal the creativity of cultural agents in the urban environment. Elites, migrants, Christians: all played a role in making new arrangements, revising rituals, and forming associations to take care of their own, thus dignifying death in their own way, something that has...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Transformations of Death among the Kikuyu of Kenya: From Hyenas to Tombs
    (pp. 69-87)
    Yvan Droz

    The funeral practices of the Kikuyu were quite shocking to their first visitors because Kikuyu people very rarely buried their dead, but instead exposed their bodies to scavengers.¹ Today, however, all the dead are buried without distinction of sex, age, or status. Burial has become the only way of disposing of the dead, and the hyenas—important animals in Kikuyu tradition—no longer feed on exposed bodies. Being buried instead of being exposed to scavengers no longer classifies individuals according to their own social achievements in a ritualized and hierarchical society.² The final rite of passage for the successful man...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Decomposing Pollution? Corpses, Burials, and Affliction among the Meru of Central Kenya
    (pp. 88-108)
    Mark Lamont

    Due to their enigmatic status among the living, corpses are the source of great ambivalence and therefore also powerful goads to the human imagination. While I will return later to changing dispositions toward corpses in the specific ethnohistorical context I address in this essay—that of the Meru in central Kenya from the 1930s to the present—my opening concern lies with what Bilinda Straight (2006: 100) has called the “entangled agencies” between the living and the dead.

    Many mortuary practices, from organ donors in the United States to double burials in Indonesia, are by definition only specific developments within...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Rise of ʺDeath Celebrationsʺ in the Cameroon Grassfields
    (pp. 109-129)
    Michael Jindra

    In the Anglophone Northwest Province of Cameroon, the practice that links the living and the dead to the greatest extent is called the “death celebration” (“cry die” in Pidgin), normally held months or years after a death, but varying from place to place (Page 2007; Jindra 1997). While some ritual mourning may occur, it is normally a festive event that can last for days, with the family of the deceased calling upon all of their financial and social resources to put on a successful event that involves feasting, performances by dance societies (Argenti 2007), gun firing, and other performances and...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Funerals and Religious Pluralism in Burkina Faso
    (pp. 130-153)
    Katrin Langewiesche

    In a country characterized by religious pluralism like Burkina Faso, death as a social event provides an opportunity for confirming and updating the boundaries between the different religions. Not only are funerals occasions that reflect religious dynamics, but they are also ideal spaces for religious rapprochements. The following descriptions of burials and funerals in rural Burkina Faso, collected during my field research in the Ouahigouya region in Yatenga Province, help us to understand the everyday functioning of this religious pluralism and to describe the forms of interaction at play (Shaw and Stewart 1994; Peel 1990). Additionally, the analysis suggests that...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Funerals and the Religious Imagination: Burying and Honoring the Dead in the Celestial Church of Christ in southern Benin
    (pp. 154-176)
    Joël Noret

    In contemporary southern Benin as in other parts of Africa, funerals are major social events. However, even though some significant evolutions have been experienced in the last decades, research on the topic has until recently often seemed disconnected from research on social change in this region of Africa, as well as in many others. Funerals and social change were in fact two domains of research, the first more or less focused on the permanence of “traditional rites,” the other on the forms adopted by “modernity” in the African field. In what follows, I will try to focus both on social...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Of Corpses, Clay, and Photographs: Body Imagery and Changing Technologies of Remembrance in Asante Funeral Culture
    (pp. 177-206)
    Marleen de Witte

    Nana Abena Fosuwaa was an old lady in Trede, an Asante village just south of Kumasi, Ghana.¹ On a Tuesday morning in November 1995, Auntie Joana, the community nurse, and I went to visit the sick Nana Abena at home.² We found her in a miserable state. She was left alone in a dark and sultry room where she was lying on a mat on the floor, crouched amidst torn and soiled pieces of cloth. The open wounds on her hands, legs, and feet clearly had not been dressed for days. I was shocked by this degrading image of suffering,...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Funerals and Fetish Interment in Accra, Ghana
    (pp. 207-226)
    Jonathan Roberts

    In Accra, Ghana, in 2004, a young woman named Amele died of a mysterious illness. Amele was born into a working class family in Bukom, a neighborhood inhabited mostly by Ga-speaking fishermen and petty traders. When she was a teenager, she had an illicit sexual relationship with a schoolmate and became pregnant. Fearing the disgrace of having a child out of wedlock, she aborted the baby using a home remedy recommended by a friend. Amele was free of the stigma of bearing an illegitimate child, but she feared that the abortion medicine had made her barren.¹ In her early twenties,...

  15. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 227-228)
  16. Index
    (pp. 229-232)