Senufo-Tagba of West Africa

illustrated village including buildings and a woman


beaded necklace pictograph

Funerals are the main unifying events for the village members. When a person dies, family members follow specific procedures to ensure the deceased is properly cared for:

  1. The village officials are informed of the death. The village administrative head is told so that he may make a legal record. The owner of the village land (the oldest member of the village founder's lineage) is ceremonially asked permission to bury the body on his land. Both the village head and the owner of the land are given cowry shells as a ritual payment for the land used to bury the deceased. According to the Senufo's symbolism of numbers, three shells are given if the deceased is a man, four if the deceased is a woman.
  2. The deceased is prepared for burial. First, the body of the deceased is cleaned and wrapped in plain cloth. Members of both sides of the family then bring the deceased offerings of blankets. They talk to the person, saying "I, (name), am bringing this for you." Once the offerings are made, the children of the deceased's sisters may take away any of the blankets they want for themselves as a part of their ritual rights. Next, the deceased is transported on a bamboo frame to outside the entrance of the compound, where the local widows give him/her a last ritual feeding of locally-grown cereal crops that have a religious significance to the village. All the guests turn their backs while the feeding ritual takes place.
  3. The deceased is carried to the graveyard. Along the way, coins and cowries are given as offerings to the deceased for whatever may be needed while traveling in the afterlife. Before burial, these are removed by the family. Dirges with powerful messages about life, women, and families are sung. They often include the thought, "Can you believe you will not see this person anymore?" Singing and the giving of offerings continue at the grave, dug earlier by members of the family. People remind the deceased to remember them and help them. Pregnant women ask for protection during their pregnancies.

Unnatural Deaths

If a person dies an unnatural death (for example, being hit by lightning, dying in childbirth, dying by drowning, etc.), the spirits are disturbed; this is considered to be a dangerous situation for the village. Certain rituals must be held to calm the spirits. Specialists are called in to perform these rituals. Because of their professional relationship with fire, water, and iron, blacksmiths serve as mediators with the spirits in cases of death by lightning.

Deaths of Parents

One way a husband shows his great appreciation of his wife is at the funerals of her parents. At these ceremonies, the husband will pass out money to the musicians and to a female member of his wife's family who stands near them. The money given to the woman, a significant amount, will then be passed to the wife. She will use the money to buy things she needs, such as new clothes or new utensils. She may also buy animals that will be taken care of in the compound of her brothers. The animals are an investment that will be inherited by the wife's oldest son at her death. These purchases can be the basis of a woman's wealth.

More about Ceremonies: