Death drums

Travel countries: Guinea Bissau
Experience: Funeral traditions

Drumming of death

I heard drumming that night… It would not sound like something odd in Africa if it had not been the 3rd night in a row of loud constant rhythm. We wanted to follow the sound, imagining wild African dances just around the corner. Fortunately, on our way one man stopped us and explained that it is funerals celebration.
Wow… I said, sit and thought for a while still truly amazed.
For me traditions how cultures celebrate (or mourn) funerals are of special importance in understanding local people’s relationship with Another World. Eventually strong wish to dance has changed into even greater wish to know more about how Guineans perceive this part of life – the End. Sitting and listening to the drums was provoking my curiosity. I simply could not go inside without knowledge, local language and invitation. I was just a silent drum listener. After a while it ended, I saw people going back home and was once again amazed – women were humming peacefully, clapping and smiling with the eyes full of joy and release. It is not the image about funerals I had in my head after participating in a few in my country. I knew that in India they also make a saint celebration wearing only white, singing and dancing, instead of sad ceremonies wearing black and weeping. I am not in any way trying to justify or praise one way over another, only for curiosity, when I had a chance I asked different people how they celebrate passing away in here. Many answers can be put into one of my conversations with Community Health Worker in a small village of 6000 people.

“It depends how old the person was. If he/she died young, of course, we mourn for the soul which has lost possibilities in young body. Otherwise, if a person has already had a long life we celebrate for three days with joy for the soul to leave an old body.”
“What is an old body?” I asked.
“An average life expectancy is a good measurement, 48 years.”
If a person survives forty-eight years it is already an achievement. I was left speechless, realizing that in this country most of the youth of my age have already lost both of their parents due to one or another illness. Lastly, curiosity about funerals traditions shifted to the head breaking question why these people keep on dying so early?

It followed me to the next investigation in Guinea Bissau – Children development and the work of Community Health Agents in the villages.


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