Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Funerals are going to be the death of me

Certain of the events in this post fall under the category of "cultural integration"

I preface this post by saying that the New Year's fete here in Togo makes New Year's Eve in the States look tame and lame. I thought one bottle of gin was going to be plenty for Jan. 1st and 2nd. I needed 3.

Anyway, the morning of January 2nd, the sister of the "old man" of my compound died. My family's, and quarter's, fete was somewhat dampened as we prepared for the funeral the next day. Or so I thought. We definitely dug the grave on the 2nd. I helped. It was hard. Throughout the day I noticed people riding into my compound on bikes with 20L jugs on the back. I didn't figure out until the next day that these were full of sodobe. The room across from my house was dedicated to the distributing of sodobe. This point is important.
On the 3rd the dancing commenced. Traditional konkumba dancing. It included 2 big drums. The actual internment happened about noon. The coffin was carried out, paraded around the dance ground, and, after the woman's grieving daughter? was talked out of the grave, positioned over the opening. There some ceremonies were performed. One of them included some complicated string thing that looked kind of like a cat's cradle that was wrapped around the head of the coffin. This is purely conjecture on my part, but it looked like it had something to do with preventing something from escaping. I dont know. Anyway, the coffin was then lowered in the grave and was, along with the objects used to prepare the woman for burial, buried.
More dancing. Into the night. All throughout this guys were wandering around with bottles of sodobe and shot glasses. This was on a Tuesday.

I think there was more dancing on Wednesday, especially in the night. The women had a seperate dance a couple of times. Thursday was the day when the "strangers" came to saluate the family. Many of them came to saluate/see/frighten their kids with me. I went to Kodjo's house eventually to escape.

Friday was the last day of the funeral. They had a traditional dance throughout the day. That night, a generator and speakers were brought in and the area outside my compound was transformed into a massive dance party that lasted until 6am Saturday.

I would walk out of my door at about 7 am, and immediately be offered a shot, or several, of sodabe. Kodjo explained to me that it was custom, and a sign of respect, to offer the family of the deceased several liters of sodabe for the funeral. I bought them 5. I think it lasted half a day. I asked my host dad how much sodabe was drunk during the whole week, and he said 50-60L. Between drums, sodabe, and strangers, it was a tiring week.

Kodjo's uncle died last week. I only went to the funeral for about a day. That was enough. I was asked, however, what funerals in the States were like. I found myself trying to explain that they were somber, sober affairs. Funerals here, while there is definitely grieving, are fetes. As Kodjo explained about his uncle's funeral, because he was closely related to the man, he danced a lot in his memory. He celebrated his uncle's life. Drinking aside, this seems, to be, to be a happier perspective on funerals.

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