Author of this post:
CBS Project Manager Melanie
Today morning, I was asked to “go and greet a funeral”. I refused. At some point I stopped counting, but in the last four months, I attended about 15-20 funerals. In average, it was about a funeral a week.
I arrived in Navrongo during the dry season in mid-March, the hottest month of the year. Every day a scorching hot sun with temperatures no less than 40° or more. The first two and a half months, I spent a considerable part of my free time on funeral grounds. This is due to the custom that not only “fresh” funerals are performed, but also “traditional” funerals. Funerals are performed over several days and weeks and completed with a traditional funeral a year – or in some cases even years – later. These traditional funerals take place only in the dry season. That being the case, many of the funerals I attended in the beginning were traditional ones. One for example was held over three days in a part of Navrongo called Etonia. A friend’s mother died 10 years ago, and her funeral was now being completed with the traditional funeral. The family house is a very very traditional house with locally influential elders who respect and treasure traditions a lot. During these three days, I learnt a lot of new things about funeral traditions and local customs – as a social anthropologist, of course, I found this very interesting! Others perform the last part of the funeral already a year after the actual burial. For example, a family in Chuchuliga who lost their father and whose “fresh” funeral was attended by Tamara and Laura at the beginning of last year, invited me to the traditional one in early April.
But also during the dry season, of course, people die and “fresh” funerals are performed. So I for example attended the funeral of a friend’s sister, who had died from a disease no doctor here and at the hospital in Tamale could cure. I attended the funeral of a friend’s sister-in-law, who had died in a motorbike crash. Another day, friends with a car came all the way from Bolgatanga and we drove further north to Manyoro to attend the funeral of a radio presenter, who had just started enjoying his pension when he unexpectedly died. Just next to that family house in Manyoro, there is a green border to Burkina Faso and we crossed over that day – if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t even notice that you are stepping onto grounds of another national state! In other cases, I just had to quickly pass by and greet the people, show, that I care, too. Of course, I don’t “HAVE” to, but it’s part of the community life here, and people appreciate seeing that one participates. It makes you a respected member of the community and whenever you need any help, people will then be ready – or rather: almost obliged – to support you too.
The rains started setting in somewhere in the beginning of June. Suddenly, my weekends were no longer that occupied with funerals any longer. Until the dry season comes again, only burials will take place and I thought would no longer spend much time at funerals. But I deceived myself. One day I woke up to the news that one of the neighbors was lying in the hospital, close to a come, because an over speeding motorcycle had crashed into him riding on a bicycle just in front of the hospital gate. Some few days later he died. The funeral took place the following Saturday morning. Then, another man in the neighborhood died, a combination of a disease and intake of too much alcohol. Last weekend, I attended the biggest funeral I have ever been to. It’s not often you see a traffic jam in Navrongo, but that day, so many people were on the road between the two family houses where the funeral and burial took place, it was crazy. Maternal death: a young nurse had given birth and died a few weeks later. When CBS celebrated the inauguration in 2011, she had helped us by cooking the food that was served to the guests. It was not easy to count, but there must have been far over 500 people. Last week, I met a lot of people who referred to the funeral and told me that they saw me there. Literally everyone had attended. Because she was a popular lady, but also because it was an unexpected death at an age far too young.
Today, I was just tired of it. I don’t know if I am going to hear any comments about my absence (over three days – the house is just behind where I stay, and I have been hearing the music throughout) – but even if, I decided I won’t care. This weekend, I was not in the mood for thinking about deaths and I just wanted to enjoy my Sunday morning in peace. Even though it’s the rainy season, I’m sure it won’t take so much time before I find myself on a funeral ground again. May their souls rest in perfect peace.
All to Thee my Blessed Savior I surrender all: This song – of course in a little bit more upbeat African version – was sung at almost all Catholic funerals I have so far attended here. Even though I don’t really like it, at times it unfortunately decides to become an involuntary earworm of the day.
About the author:
Melanie is a social anthropologist and holds a MA in Development Studies with a focus on Local Development Strategies from the distinguished Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. She is a qualified trainer of youth leaders in Africa-Europe Youth Cooperation and has led youth projects in Switzerland, Ghana and Kenya.
Melanie is a Co-Founder of CBS Business School and the Co-President of Sono