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The Dagara native people live mainly in West Africa, the northwest of Ghana, and the south of Burkina Faso. Some communities live in Ivory Coast and Cameroon.

For them, death represents only a passage toward the world of their ancestors. The soul leaves the body instantaneously after death but does not become immediately part of the invisible world.

The soul remains present throughout the mourning, continues to travel across the village, and stays close to the family.

The family meets and listens to the moribund’s last wishes, then says him goodbye. The dying person must die leaning against the knees of someone from the family.

Later, the body is washed and dressed in mortuary clothing. They shave the head of the deceased because the hair is considered impure.

The body thus prepared is installed by the gravediggers in a seat, leaning against the main entrance’s wall, outside his house, which represents a public space.

Under this seat they place a mat made of millet’s cobs, the deceased’s feet must not touch the ground.

Dagara Deceased

The process of the funeral ceremony depends on the cause of death, which is revealed by the diviner or even by the deceased himself.

For the individuals who died by accident or disease, the custom requires payment of compensation for ritual reparation (a financial fine, plus a female chicken and an animal for the sacrifice of reparation). They consider that type of death as punishment from the spirits.

The elderly which died after a long life and had many children, benefit from a good funeral. The sorcerers and the accursed remain exceptions, they are abandoned at the last moment of their life and afterward thrown into a pit.

Laments around the balafon

The catafalque is surrounded by objects owned by the deceased, which help and accompany him on his journey to the land of his ancestors. They orient the catafalque to the east for the men (who get up early in the direction of the fields) and facing west for the women (who prepare the meal when the sun goes down).

Around the balafon, they lament, tear, discourse, complain, and dance. They replay by mimes the most important moments of the deceased’s life. This gesture aims to eliminate from the memory his earthly existence.

The narrative of his life’s great deeds includes much grief and represents the central part of the lamenting process. The coins intended for the gravediggers are thrown at the bottom of the throne which supports the coffin.

The funeral occurs quickly, in an atmosphere of cries and lamentations, which marks the final separation from the deceased. A chicken sacrifice precedes that separation. The “red tomb” represents a new tomb, and the “black tomb” is a dismantled old tomb that became ready to be reused.

The burial takes place out of sight. For this, the gravediggers hide the entire scene by forming a screen made of tissues, which they roll out all around the grave.

The gifts offered to the deceased do not accompany him to the grave. When he leaves for the afterlife, he carries away the invisible substance of these gifts. At the end of the vigil, the visible envelopes of the objects are destroyed, as they represent only appearances without consistency.

The soul is encouraged to rejoin the ancestors through the rite of the bitter funeral. The purpose of this rite is to purify the deceased for his peregrination towards the city of the ancestors and to help him to be accepted there.

Protective clothing

The main signs of mourning are the ashes and the fibers attached to the arms. The man who plays the role to be the first to cry is hit on the neck with a hand smeared or filled with ashes.

The mourning begins with a symbolic meal in the deceased’s honor. He is supposed to participate in that event, to drink and eat with the whole family.

The feet and the hands of the mourners are coated with kaolin. They receive a bag, a stick, and a goatskin (or sheepskin) to be carried over their shoulder and on which they can sit.

As symbols of mourning, the woman wears fibers and has to hold a stick. The mourners are not allowed to take a bath and are not authorized to visit the sick people.

The rite of the « fresh funeral » marks the end of mourning and the acceptance of the deceased among the ancestors.

Funeral ceremony: lamentation around the balafon

Sources :

Kusiele Meda Kow Dominique Savio (abbé), Célébration chrétienne de funérailles dagara perspectives pastorales

David Vaulay, Musique et funérailles chez les Dàgàrà-Lòbr du Burkina Faso,


GBÃAN `E DABIRE C., Nisaal. L’homme comme relation




Traditional dwelling

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Spiritualité Autochtone