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Funeral rites in Africa

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In the Dogon countries

The funeral rite among the Dogon people takes place in three stages:

  • Upon the death, a funeral is held. The body of the deceased is washed before being deposited in the open air through the cracks of the cliffs that serve as cemetery. His soul remains in the village.
  • A few months later, funerals are held that allow family and friends to pay tribute to the deceased. His soul then left home but continues to roam the countryside.
  • The third time is the dama. This ceremony is collective and concerns all the people killed in previous years (the dama is organized every 3-5 years). The souls are called to join the ancestors. During the ceremony, which lasts three days, different masks came out and parade and dance in the village. This ceremony marks the end of mourning.

In Luo

Tero buru(Funeral (tero buru) of an adult male in 1929.)

The most important ritual among the Luo is the one related to the death of an adult. This ceremony is called tero buru (literally “take the ashes” in Luo language) when the women smear the bodies with ashes of a campfire. It means the action of “support the transition to death.”

This ritual may seem violent because, during the burial of an adult male, men cross the village perched on bulls in traditional warrior dress, simulating the impalement of a hypothetical enemy and that the bulls are entered the house of the deceased. The dances performed by women (the deceased is a man or a woman), are supposed to take the evil spirits of this house and also finish inside.

Although these practices are no longer in use today, the funeral rite always result in exceeding crowd, often several hundred people, and last for three days and three nights. The women present in the rite meet every night and throughout it, for a vigil.

Traditionally, the deceased remains, always present, buried, not in the cemetery but in his ber gi dala (in Luo, literally “it’s good for the family home”), that is to say, the family property. The day of the funeral, the priest moves to accomplish the Christian funeral rite.

Widows and girls never inherit. In the best case for them, and with the approval of the family of the deceased, the bare ownership of property is transferred to the son and usufruct to the widow who has the status of first wife (mikayi).

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