Friday, April 20, 2012

Hot Season, Funeral Season

I never knew there could be a "season" for funerals, but at least up here in the Upper East there is- during hot season.  From about January to May, there is constantly a funeral happening.  You always are aware of a funeral because there is lots of drumming through the town, and one any given night, nearly every night now, very loud music plays throughout the entire night.  I wake up at midnight, 2 AM, 4 AM, and yes, the music is still going full blast.  Sometimes I even still hear the drumming that started the previous day.  I'm am looking forward to rainy season not only for the rain, but for this constant loud music to stop.  I don't even know when people sleep most days.  There have been a few nights when the music hasn't stopped until 5 AM.
At the end of March I went to go see my first two funerals in one night.  Up in the north the funerals are really interesting because they do war dances.  I had seen drummers and dancers all around town, dressed up, walking to the funeral sites, but I had never seen the dances.  So Christopher, Roja and Marcus first took me to a funeral of a relative's of Christopher in Logre (a neighboring village).  We arrived at the compound which was on a small hill at about dusk.  One by one, sometimes in groups of two or three, the war dancers arrived at the compound, playing a small flute and drums, wearing very volorful costumes and doing fighting-like dances.  The relatives of the deceased do these dances, so I saw many men from town that I knew since the funeral was for Christopher's relative.
During funerals, the family brews pito and makes cosi (fried bean cakes) to serve to relatives and guests.  Also, many women from the villages come to sell their own pito or cosi or apateshie.  (The family does not sell the food; only people outside the family are allowed to sell food and drinks.  If a family member were to be seen selling food, people would think they are taking advantage of a family member dying.)
I believe the main reason that funerals are only held in the hot season, for the most part, is because during rainy season most people are busy farming.  Funerals last 4-5 days here, so if this continued during the rainy season, no one would go to farm.  And it would be very hard to do the dancing and drumming in the rain.  Rob even told me he thinks there is a law in his village of Zuarungu (a town nearby Bolga) that says you can't have a funeral in the rainy season, or else you will be fined a certain number of cows.  I think another reason they only have funerals now is because of money.  Since families spend so much money on funerals, they have to have time to save up all this money.  But unlike in the south, families up here do not ask guests for money to help pay for the funerals, they take on the expenses themselves.  I am relieved about this because now I do not have to sit around while people give money to the family, and they announce they give to everyone, like I did twice at my homestay in Anyinasin.  And in the south there are funerals every weekend; they are used to constant rain so these events are covered, and they don't do the drumming and dancing like here in the north.
At the second funeral we went to that night, one of the drummers insisted I play one of the drums.  Before I thought that the different pitches produced by each drum was created by pushing on the strings with your hands.  I was wrong.  You hold the drum up under your arm, wrap your arm around it and hold it against your body.  When you squeeze the drum so that your body and arms constrict the strings, different pitches are creating when you hit the drum head with and "L" shaped mallet.  Very cool.  These drummers can go for hours, even days at a time, I don't know how they can do it.  Amazing.

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