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

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*Information on this page was gathered from Jack Goody's Death, Property and the Ancestors: A Study of the Mortuary Customs of the LoDagaa. Goody is a sociologist who has experience in field work in in Ghana during the 1950s. He spent time in the Lodagaa community and attended many funerals and burials.

 A Death in the Community: Death in a LoDagaa village is a public matter- it is announced to the community in three ways. The moment of death is marked by the wailing of women. This informs nearby neighbors, who are primarily family members. Then the sound of xylophones notifies the larger community, the tune depending on whether the deceased is male or female. The attendance at a funeral varies with status, kinship ties, and the means of communication that are available to announce the the ritual. In general, participation is expected of everyone within range to hear the sound of the xylophones, but if family members live too far away, a messenger (koyiri) is sent and this obliges them to attend as well. Not all deaths are mourned in public. If one dies an evil death (ku faa), for example, the body has to be quickly disposed of. Evil deaths could be caused by being struck by lightning, sin, witches, suicides, epidemics and also include those who have been sold into slavery.  In those cases only close family attend the funeral (Goody 52).

 Burial Preparations: Women from the neighborhood who are familiar with funerary procedures are in charge of preparing the corpse for burial. These women are always post-menopausal; this means that they have "turned to men" (Goody 55). Their status entitles them to carry out these rituals on both males and females, because they are thought to be asexual. 

First, they bathe the body in hot water to remove all impurities. Afterwards, they put melted shea butter on their palms, stretch out and withdraw their arms two times, and anoint the body with oil. They also shave the head of the corpse as part of the procedure of the cleansing procedure. This is also done to the deceasedís spouse as well as the parents after the death of a child. Cutting is seen as an act of separation. Shaving the head not only distinguishes the person, but also cleanses by removing more body dirt.   

The women wrap the corpse with white cloth around his waist. Then they dress him  in a white smock, long baggy pants, and a hat- usually a red fez. The clothes that are used are high status symbols, associated both with chiefs, who have political authority, and Muslims, who are thought to have a special connection to the supernatural. The formal clothing also emphasizes the distinctness of the funeral as a rite of passage into ancestorhood.