To the Grave and Beyond:
A look at funeral rituals and traditions from various West African cultures

Reference Maps

Imagery of the Afterlife



African Art Homepage



Kongo-style in the US

 Works Cited

Ruth's Site: Into Ancestorhood

Image from Thierry Secretan's Going Into Darkness (see works cited)Overview: This site is dedicated to West African culture. It is a look into the funerary traditions, spiritual beliefs and related art of various tribes including the Ga, LoDagaa, Yoruba and Ashanti. I will discuss concepts of death and the afterlife in these West African cultures in connection with their respective  mortuary rituals. I have included a page on the integration of Kongo beliefs and style in African American folk art, which I hope you will find as interesting as I do. I also have a page of reference maps that will help you locate the areas of Africa in which these cultures are centered.  The sources I used to gather information for the site provided me with detailed descriptions of funerals for men, however I could not find information on funerals for women. So keep in mind while you navigate my site, that funeral traditions do differ between the sexes, and I have not included traditions involved in female burials.

Death As a Beginning:
In West Africa, dying is not seen as a tragedy, but rather as a rite of passage or initiation. Birth, death and rebirth are on a continuum and the spirit is preserved eternally. If given a proper funeral, the deceased will become an ancestor. Ancestors are regarded as the most powerful members of society. In traditional West African cultures, ancestor worship is a daily practice. The dead are revered and honored through sacrifice, annual festivals and personal worship. In this way the deceased are incorporated into everyday life. Funerals are community events lasting several days. Villages shut down for the duration so that all may attend. This liminal period between death and ascension to ancestorhood is a critical time that must be dealt with properly. Funerals are public displays of solidarity and include feasting, music, dance and celebration. These elaborate celebrations ensure that the spirit of the deceased is appeased and will make a successful journey to the afterlife.