A Drummer's Testament
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Chapter I-20:  Funerals   <PDF file>

Funerals as an example of the role of music in community events; the elder of the funeral house; how a dead body is bathed and buried; the stages of a funeral:  three days, seven days, shaving the funeral children, “showing the thing,” sharing property; why Dagbamba like funerals; the importance of funerals; music and funerals

Paragraph outline and links
Proverbs and sayings
Dagbani words and other search terms

Supplementary material

drummers praising people outside a funeral house
funeral house cooking pots



Be kumdi la kuli

Contents outline and links by paragraph  <top of page>

Introduction:  funerals

1.  importance of funerals; many dances; Dagbamba and Muslim funerals are different
2.  funerals and death:  fearful talk
3.  parts of funeral:  preparing the body; the burial; the small funeral:  three days and seven days; the final funeral:  shaving the funeral children and showing the riches
4.  other aspects:  leader of the funeral takes people through the steps; this talk with regard to an older person who had children
5.  funerals reflect families:  the mother’s side and the father’s side
6.  the strength of the mother’s house; connection to a child
7.  the strength of the father’s house; father’s house performs the funeral before mother’s house

Kuyili kpɛma:  the leader of the funeral

8.  “elder of the funeral house”; head of the family; receives all strangers and makes decisions
9.  must be there before burial; gets the white cloth (kparbu) to wrap the body
10.  will look at the dead body; inquire about the death
11.  buy sheep for soli saɣim to feed strangers who gather, sit and sleep outside the house for one week

The Small Funeral

Drumming for the dead person

12.  drummers beat outside the room where the dead body is; for some people only
13.  Bɛ kumdi la kuli:  “crying the funeral”; taboos:  only at funeral house, cannot make a mistake

Bathing the dead body

14.  two sheep for Limam:  one for prayers, one for bathing the dead body
15.  bathing money; everything in fours for women, threes for men
16.  burial:  four days or three days; guns shoot three or four times
17.  with inflation, still use numbers that show three and four
18.  bathing the dead body:  tie grass, heat water, everything in threes and fours
19.  wash with special sponge from tanyibga tree roots; use local soap
20.  this type of bathing generally not done in modern days
21.  Muslims says one should use light touch on dead body
22.  the talk of sponges and soap is from the olden days
23.  modern people don’t even know about it
24.  Muslim way:  Yɛri-Naa, elder who bathes dead bodies; only uses water and hands
25.  use part of the cloth to make trousers and jumper, hat; wrap the dead body so face is exposed; put in box and bring outside

Settling of debts

26.  settling debts; funeral elder asks to settle any debts
27.  someone may have information about debt; will stand and testify
28.  some debts settled in private

Burial of the dead person

29.  take body to cemetery; drummers beat Kulunsi
30.  the kasiɣirba:  grave diggers put dead body into grave
31.  how the kasiɣirba place the body in the grave; uncover face; children must look at parent in the grave
32.  maalams say looking at sick people makes a person look at himself differently
33.  therefore others also look at dead people in the grave
34.  formerly children were forced to look; helps people live better lives
35.  only those at the burial look; no delay for the burial
36.  burial generally the same day a person dies, or the next day
37.  people rush to funeral house; nobody waits or delays
38.  even the funeral elder does not delay; if delayed, an elder from the area will fill in
39.  townspeople use cemeteries; in villages the grave is inside the compound, marked with cowries
40.  chiefs are buried in their room, which is then closed off
41.  some people buried in compound, some in room; sometimes funeral elder will stay and live in the house
42.  if person buried in bush, will mark the grave; then return to funeral house
43.  return to house for prayers; pass woven pan (pɔŋ) for burial money
44.  burial money is any amount people give to help with expenses

Prayers and sacrifice:  the “three days” and the “seven days”

45.  alms of small foods like maha given to children
46.  people stay at funeral house for one week to console family
47.  bɔɣli lɔɣbu:  covering the hole;  the three days and the seven days
48.  slaughter a sheep:  shared to kasiɣirba, drummers, Limam
49.  prayers and alms on the pɔŋ; repeated on the seventh day

Kubihi pinibu:  shaving the funeral children

50.  shaving the funeral children; usually only for chief’s children at the small funeral
51.  shaving is for all the family
52.  shaving is optional, but most do it to show relationship
53.  “buying your hair”:  pay the barber but don’t shave
54.  how the relatives sit to be shaved; drummers beat same beating as Yori; not grandchildren

The grandchildren's role

55.  beating ground with sticks; collecting money; the bereaved playmates
56.  grandchildren sometimes dance Dikala; drummers also praise people

Conclusion of the small funeral

57.  on the seventh day, the elder of the funeral sets date for the final funeral; some months later
58.  after small funeral, then the mother’s house funeral
59.  elder of the funeral leaves, but will help provide for widows and children

The final funeral:  kubihi pinibu, buni wuhibu, and sara tarbu

60.  final funeral:  shaving the funeral children; kill cow; bathe the eldest son and eldest daughter
61.  one week later:  showing the riches and giving the sacrifice; Thursday and Friday are strong; people gather at funeral house
62.  showing the riches:  in-laws; husbands of the dead person’s daughter; gifts of cloth, scarf, waistband, cola, and sacrifices
63.  public presentations by the in-laws; the role of Zoɣyuri-Naa
64.  in-laws bring drummers and dance groups
65.  dancing in the night; happiness
66.  recapitulation:  the work of drummers at the small funeral
67.  the drumming and dancing at the final funeral
68.  adua and sara tarbu:  prayers and sacrifice the next day to finish the funeral; then share the property

Funerals before Islam

69.  funerals before Naa Zanjina:  buli chɛbu; burial and then sacrifice a goat; “knocking out”
70.  Naa Zanjina brought maalams to show how to bath and bury a dead person

Benefits of funerals:  knowing the family and the friends

71.  help to make the family well; get to know one another
72.  get to know your mother’s side
73.  when take friends and family to wife’s parent’s funeral, gives great respect
74.  learn about relationships you might not know about
75.  if the family is small, some will attend funeral with many friends
76.  how your friends will support you, including even their friends who don’t know you
77.  how funerals become large; example of someone with many children and grandchildren
78.  benefits of funerals:  know the family and know the friends
79.  problem of funerals:  when food is not enough, some only so the small funeral
80.  somebody may profit from funeral from gifts of food
81.  Dagbamba reciprocate with regard to funerals

Drummers’ work at funerals

82.  show the family to one another; spending on drummers adds respect
83.  the in-laws bring different dances to the funeral house; dance group members support one another and their friends
84.  drummers also have several dance circles
85.  friendship the basis for all the help with dances; go and return home; Simpa and Baamaaya all night
86.  the dance groups are not paid; only come to help their friends
87.  like paying a debt of friendship; reciprocate and help one another; Dagbamba way of living
88.  resembles talk of respect:  how Dagbamba help one another; how drumming talks enter Dagbamba way of living

Why attending funerals is important for the family

89.  a father tells daughters’ husbands that they should perform his funeral well; adds respect to wife
90.  if many friends attend a funeral, the family may give one of them a wife; friendship brings family
91.  a well-attended funeral adds to a family’s respect
92.  sometimes people attend funerals because of the dead person who has attended funerals; Alhaji Ibrahim like that
93.  people do not attend funeral of someone who did not attend funerals; taboos
94.  not attending funeral or sending a messenger is like removing oneself from the family
95.  important funeral for someone without children; fear and respect; taboo
96.  funerals have not changed; deeply linked to family life and family strength
97.  great respect if Yaa-Naa sends a messenger to a funeral


98.  transition to talk of chiefs’ funerals and maalams’ funerals

Proverbs and Sayings  <top of page>

The talk of funerals looks like the talk of families.

How a human being is, a human being is in four parts.

An old person is not somebody who has lived long or who has a white beard.

An old person is one who has heard the talk of the past and is holding it in his pocket. 

If somebody dies, children should see the way their father is.

If people gather like that, to be sitting outside a dead person’s house and sleeping there, it always helps to remove the people of the house from their sorrow. 
Whatever we are doing and the people are many, it is something that helps us. 

Benefit is in a group.

We perform a funeral and know the family, and we perform a funeral and know the friends.

 It is we drummers who show someone his family and they will know each other.

If you are somebody who doesn’t lend anything to anybody, then nobody will be coming to pay you back. 

When your friend gets a problem and you go to help him, then it looks as if you are holding his debt.

In Dagbani we give it the name:  we help one another.  If you don’t help somebody, somebody too will not help you.

If there were to be no funerals, then there would be no family. 

It is because of the performing of the funeral, that is why the family is standing. 

The performing of the funeral is the thing that strengthens our friendship with people. 

Friendship brings family. 

A dead person doesn’t die at once. 

God says that any gathering that will gather and will bring family together, that gathering is very good. 

If you are a good-luck person, and you go to be with a bad-luck person, then you will also carry some of his problem.

Key words for ASCII searches  <top of page>

Chiefs, elders and titled persons
Gbonlana  (Gbɔŋlana)
Naa Zanjina
Nanton Lun-Naa
Pakpon  (Pakpɔŋ)
Zogyuri-Naa   (Zoɣyuri-Naa)

Musical terms
Be kumdi la kuli  (Bɛ kumdi la kuli)
Dogu  (Doɣu)
Jera  (Jɛra)
Nagbiegu  (Naɣbiɛɣu)
Nakohi-waa  (Nakɔhi-waa)
Tora  (Tɔra)
Zhim taai kurugu  (Ʒim taai kurugu)

Names and people
Alhaji Ibrahim Kpabia

Towns and places

Cultural groups
Dagbamba, Dagbana

Miscellaneous terms
bogli logbu  (bɔɣli lɔɣbu)
be nindi la daba ata
buli chebu  (buli chɛbu)
buni wuhibu
cedi, cedis
dabogu  (dabɔɣu)
daba ata
daba ayopoin  (daba ayopɔin)
jenjemi  (jɛnjɛmi)
kahinga  (kahiŋŋa)
kalinga  (kaliŋa)
kasigirba  (kasiɣirba)
kodugu  (koduɣu)
ku nmang duu  (ku ŋmaŋ duu)
kubihi ka be pinda  (kubihi ka bɛ pinda)
kubihi pinibu  (kubihi pinibu)
kuyili kpema  (kuyili kpɛma)
maalam, maalams
nmenyihi  (ŋmɛnyihi)
pong  (pɔŋ)
sara tarbu
soli sagim  (soli saɣim)
tanyibga  (possibly Erythrina senegalensis DC)
tuhi pinaata