wondering...about the wonders of this wonderfull...world

wondering...about the wonders of this wonderfull...world
foto x arnaldo @MMXIproject
A couple of summers ago, coming home from class, I took the subway with a friend and I told her I was trying to start a blog... then I also told her how time consuming and addicting it had become, and that I was wondering if it was something worth doing... she laughed and asked me to let her know when I was done and give her the"link" so she could read it. Then she left and I kept thinking...why? why should I do this ?

Technology has taken us to a new level and we are now, able to "publish ourselves"! PUBLISH OURSELVES however we want to; if you want to be yourself, transparent and out in the open, or even if you want to pretend to be someone else... YOU CAN! Now you can blog and share your thoughts and experiences with people without having them "altered" by the editors, or "chosen" because of how cool or marketable they are...

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Funerary rituals of the Dogon, Asante, and Kongo

Funerary rituals of the Dogon, Asante, and Kongo

The African cultures of the Dogon, Asante and Kongo kingdoms have very interesting funerary rituals. Masquerading, bundling dead bodies, sacrifices, funeral processions and terracotta or wooden sculptures are some of the ways that these cultures enhance the transition of their loved ones from the world of the living to the supernatural and spiritually sacred.
In Dogon culture there is a masking society called the Awa. Only men are initiated into this society, with the exception of a group of women called Yasigine. They are in charge of the rituals and ceremonies that facilitate the passing of the ancestors into the supernatural world and believe that the lineage leaders offer power and protection. To them, death was introduced at a certain point in time, when Lebi Seru- a bad ancestor- died and was reborn as a snake. They speak an exclusive high pitch ritual language called Sigi-So language of the spirits.
When someone dies the “great Mask” is brought out and stood against the ginna where the body of the person is. Sacrifices are done to it to announce the death, and the mask is later brought back to the bush. The great mask is the principal shrine of this society; it is tall like a snake and commemorates the first Dogon death, and the story of Lebe Serou. The great Mask is supposed to absorb the spirit power released by a death (nyama). This sacred mask is never worn; it is mainly used to energize the masqueraders.
The Awa celebrate 3 very important rituals: Bagobundo, Dama, and Sigi. Bagobundo, which is celebrated the day after a person is buried, is a ceremony to tell the spirits of the dead to leave the natural world. In it are the Bedye dancers and the sirige mask. The sirige mask is supposed to bring fertility, rebirth and energy to the village. This one is a tall plank with grid-like, ordered motifs, and when it touches the earth while being danced it is supposed to control the Nyama. Sirige also represents the ginna, a big house with many families, the community and the lineage.
A more elaborate and costly Dogon masquerade is the Dama, which is done every 13 years, and serves as a second funeral. It permanently exiles the soul of the dead and incorporates them into the supernatural world. The size of the Dama reflects the wealth and importance of those who have died. It lasts about 6-7 days and marks the end of mourning. In preparation for the Dama, the men go to the bush to make the masks and bring them back to the village as symbols of the spiritual forces from the wilderness. Women are only allowed to watch from the distance and must never come in contact with the masks. However Masqueraders wear red fibers and cowry shells symbolizing female fertility/menstruation. They also wear headpieces that resemble the admired beauty of the Fulani women (enemies). The masks are paraded and danced around the village and on the final day returned to the bushes. The great mask is the last one to be put away
Lastly, they celebrate Sigi; which is done every 60 years, when a generation of men is to pass. The women born during this ceremony-called the Yasigine- will become a part of the Awa society and are allowed to see the Dama ceremonies and will also receive one when they die. However, they will never become masqueraders and only help the men. This celebration lasts several months and goes round the village.
The Asante people have somewhat different funerary practices. They commemorate their deceased with terracotta sculptures that are usually made by women and used on the second funeral to give the final farewells. Very good examples of this are the Memorial Heads (7-14). Whether standing alone or attached to pots, the artists try to shape a close resemblance to the deceased by using individualizing scarification marks, hairstyles or tattoos. When made for a member of royal family or someone with high status in the society they might be adorned with cloth and/or seated in state chair or in a stool. Stools were also a very important part of Asante culture, but they are more closely related to royalty. When the Asantahene or Chief died, he would be blackened and his hairs and nails would be put inside the core of his stool, believing that his spirit would reside there. The stool would then be put into the stool room along with the stools of important ancestors, and sacrifices and offerings would be done in its name.
Funerary processions also played a big part of Asante culture, and the grandeur and splendidness of them would indicate the status that the deceased would have in their afterlife. Because of this, people of middle and higher rank sometimes commissioned custom coffins to be made according to the life that the person had. A wealthy, respected fisherman would be buried in a fish coffin (see image. 7-41) The family, or close relatives might also dress alike during the procession to show family solidarity.
Speaking of family solidarity, and demonstration of wealth, the funerary arts of The Kongo People of the Democratic Republic of Congo are also very particular. In the Niombo burial rites practiced by the Bwende group, family members donate and gather numerous raffia cloths, banana leaves, and colorful imported and local blankets to “wrap” the smoked bodies of important society members into large bundles. The size of the “Niombo” is a symbol of family wealth, which is why they create enormous “mummies” that are transported to their burial place followed by a procession of dancers, singers and a large feast that was dedicated to the family of the deceased. Instead of mourning, they celebrate the afterlife. Niombos are usually decorated with embroidery that assimilates scarification marks or symbols that are associated with the mediating powers of the dead and their beliefs of the afterlife. They generally have red fabric and lozenge shapes that refer to the four stages of life (Kala, Tukuls, Luvemba, Musoni), and are made in the “crossroads pose” and open mouth that indicate that the Niombo will be crossing the boundary as a mediator for the community between the living and the spirits of the dead. As Niombo finally touches the bottom of the grave, people jump and shout” breaking the body loose from physical existence” and releasing it into the afterlife.
Funerary rituals amongst these cultures, while different, share similar beliefs and symbols. The belief of an afterlife and of the tutelary protection of the ancestors, the separation of the supernatural and human world and the idea that the wealth and prosperity of the burials will determine the status of the deceased in the afterlife, as well as the respect and belief in the power of the spiritual ancestors are just a few. However, this semester each kingdom or society showed us how intricate and elaborate yet interesting their belief system and hierarchy is. Hopefully, will ill be able to treasure this knowledge and find out more, to get a better understanding of the behavior of these peculiar African groups.

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