Saturday, March 24, 2007

One Husband: Four Grieving Widows

Not long ago, we attended the funeral of the grandfather of a Togolese friend of ours. Funerals in West Africa are a much bigger event than weddings or other celebrations and the family goes to great expense in both grieving and celebrating the life of the deceased and preparing for the burial. Sometimes the funeral itself is delayed up to a year while the family gathers money for the expenses involved.

As with most funerals here, it started at midnight with singing and dancing all night, in the form of a wake. Chairs and a huge tarp were rented and put up in the street outside the home, along with sound system, lights and music. Fortunately we were not obliged to attend this part of the celebration, arriving instead at the house at 7:00 a.m. to walk with the family and friends behind the coffin which headed through town to the church for the Catholic service. The deceased, a man named ALOUPHA, was 77 years old, a retired master blacksmith, and not surprising for the culture and his age, had four wives. The four wives, all living in different towns, were clustered in a room together and did not participate at all in the funeral, except for when people came to their room to give their condolences. We’ve been told they will stay there together for one month to mourn. (See photo “4 Grieving Widows”—I was asked to take this photo by our friend, a granddaughter, who is related to widow #2, sitting second from the left).

Photo #2 captures the “Animist” participants of what was otherwise a Catholic service (you can see the hearse/pick-up truck in the background). Most Togolese have not abandoned their roots in the African animist religion which worships different deities. This man worshipped, alongside his Catholic faith, the god of iron (he was, after all, a blacksmith). But other clan members of the god of iron, not having anything to do with the profession, are wearing white headscarves and/or shirts to show their affiliation in addition to the single facial scare on the left check which is given in infancy. The animists attended the Catholic service, but also held their own more secretive traditional service which we were not invited to attend.

Photo #3 shows the women at work preparing for the feast to follow the burial. The “kitchen crew” was having a grand time in their colorful dress. The food was some of the tastiest we’ve had in Togo (servings of lamb, beef, guinea hen).

The last photo is of the cemetery, the newest and nicest in the region.

Last note: For you Francophiles, here are 2 verses that were given out and attached to the photo of the deceased with a list of family members and people who helped contribute to the funeral. (It is customary to give gifts of money to help with expenses):
“Notre secours est dans le nom de l’Eternel. Qui a fait les cieux et la terre.” Ps. 124:8
“Que la grâce de notre Seigneur Jésus Christ soit avec vous.” 2 Thess. 1:28