Funerals are all solemn cultural, religious ceremonies to commemorate a death. The funeral process begins the day the death is announced until the burial and even a few days after the burial. The most anticipated moments of the funeral are the interval between the week before and the week after the burial. In the following lines I will relate the facts as they occur without personal interpretation or exaggeration.
The practice of funerals among the Bétés and Didas
In Côte d’Ivoire, the bétés and the didas are considered the kings of funerals. Every weekend, from Friday, the bus stations are filled in the direction of Divo, Lakota, Gagnoa, Guiberoua, Soubré, Issia, Daloa. Place Figayo, Ivosep, in the neighborhoods, these people are still in uniform, new models of loincloths bearing the image of the deceased, music with fanfare, etc. to pay a last tribute to the deceased. The day before, Thursday evening, in the cities, a vigil is organized.
Financial contributions are solicited, sometimes imposed according to the family ties with the deceased. These financial contributions often help pay morgue fees and sometimes hearse fees. Unfortunately not everyone is lucky enough to benefit from this small contribution in town. Under the pretext of coming to sympathize with the pain, funerals are an opportunity for most people to reunite, either to find an old girlfriend, a former friend, a former companion, etc.
During the disease, very few people or none at all to provide assistance for treatment, to pay for drugs, medical treatment, and follow-up. As soon as he dies, money is quickly found to place him in the morgue and then follow the grandiose funeral. In this region of Côte d’Ivoire, solidarity truly begins after death and it is very quickly turned into a scene of swindle, scam, kids.
It is especially in the villages that funeral practices take on a different aspect. The hearse takes the direction of the village of the deceased accompanied by close relatives, friends, and colleagues. Here begin the much more serious things. The orphan, widow or widower has to pay money to have his head shaved (widowhood, orphanage). The meals served must be rich in pieces of expensive meat or fish. Such a situation when the moment of blessings arrives. You have to pay special money to be said to be blessed by those “relatives” who came for the funeral. Certainly, you will not be put in prison for not having paid for this or for that. However, you have a moral obligation to everyone to pay to avoid criticism, ridicule, or even curses.
There is first the pre-funeral phase
You have to go and announce the death in the family, often in the village. We don’t go there with empty hands or pockets. To get there, you have to shop for cooking. Yes, those who came to announce the news of the death must offer the condiments for the meals as well as the drinks. These drinks are given to parents in the village before they are asked for the news. It is their responsibility to prepare food for all those who come to attend the meeting. There are questions to be answered, sacrifices and libations to be made. It lasts about a week.
After which, there is a frank discussion of the date of the actual funeral. The envoys can then return to their respective families while certain women aunts, cousins, closer to the deceased do not return any time soon. They prefer to be there to wait for the arrival of the body of the deceased. During all the time they are there, you will have to pay for their food and their drinks, to maintain them on a daily basis, that is the pre-funeral stage.
Specifically, Bétés and Didas funerals often revolve around competition between families, between children, between parents, between villages. Kitas loincloths, liquors, beers, wines, gins, pastis, colds, whisky, bags of rice, beef, sheep, cassava, bananas, enough food, lots of food is synonymous with a successful funeral. People come from all over to empathize with the pain that strikes the bereaved family. While they mourn, some people, especially women, sing and say pathetic words about the life of the deceased and especially about the void he will leave, namely the inheritance. They don’t really cry for the children left behind.
Sometimes it is the widow, sometimes it is the widower who is accused of having killed their son or their sister by poisoning or by witchcraft most often. These crying people do acrobatics, tear their hair, etc: a real folklore of another age. Relatives of the deceased shave their heads during the period of mourning and black outfits are worn to show their compassion. In the Bété and Dida tradition, it is a duty to honor the memory of a deceased person. Another important point in the Bété et Dida tradition is that the dead should not be buried immediately after their death.
Burying it immediately is frowned upon because it is synonymous with lack of consideration and a sign of poverty. He must be in the morgue for at least two months, the time of the preparations for the funeral. Sometimes this period is not enough. Keeping it beyond one year is also synonymous with lack of means or for other factors such as nobody wants to take direct responsibility for it for various reasons, etc. It can be interpreted as what the deceased was a wizard or a very wicked man for example. You will learn that in addition to the direct expenses you make, you must add other ancillary expenses. For example, you must offer kitas loincloths, adingras loincloths, loincloths made in Côte d’Ivoire, goats, beer racks in the name of an alliance woven between two villages, the village where the deceased was married and his native village.
Finally, in this part of the country, anyone who loses a loved one finds it a duty for anyone close to them to give them money. If you don’t give him money he will conclude that you didn’t sympathize with his pain and he may not even talk to you anymore. Example A and B are friends. Lost his dad. B does not approach him to send his condolences or give him any money. A will end their relationship immediately. Funerals revolve around racketeering, scams.
The consequences of the funeral
The organization of funerals in Bété and Dida countries has a cost that close relatives must bear, in particular the widowed husband or the widowed wife or the children. If you are the eldest in the family, everything depends on you, the criticisms, the solicitations, the questions, the requests for money, etc. All the people who come to sympathize with the pain do not participate strictly speaking in the financial expenses of the funeral such as the coffin which must be expensive, the kitas loincloths which must be buried with the deceased, valuable jewellery, loincloths, all this to show how much we love the deceased by proving it to visitors. You have to feed, pay for transport and even give pocket money to some people who come to the funeral. These people ask you to pay their transport costs.
These people don’t care that you spent a lot of money. For them it is your duty to share the money with them despite the expenses you have incurred. Very quickly, the funeral becomes the object of racketeering, kids, scams. After having made all the expenses, it is time for each and every parent who came to the funeral to draw up a list of the extra expenses that you will have to incur. Example on the mom or dad side of the deceased or the deceased: aunts, sisters, children, nephews, cousins, uncles all, you must give them money.
Yes you must give them money in addition to having taken everything from the deceased under the pretext that it is their brother, or sister, etc. After the funeral, the widow finds herself poor and alone with her children, the same for the husband, or the children if it is mom or dad who died. They and above all they will take everything that is in the house: kitchen utensils, jewelry, loincloths, bicycles, plantations, motorcycles, cars, even the house because for them it is a right to recover everything that the or the deceased left as well. The presence and the future of the children of the deceased does not interest them.
What becomes of the cemeteries in this?
Cemeteries built with thousands or even millions of francs quickly fall into oblivion. A few times, some people, especially women, take a quick trip to the cemetery of their loved ones, most often on the occasion of the feast of the dead in the month of November or on the occasion of the burial of a new body. But in general, the cemeteries are not maintained in the Bété and Dida countries. So what was all this folklore for?
In Bété and Didas countries, more importance is given to the death than to the sick. We say to ourselves that we will no longer see the dead so we have to sufficiently show our attachment, our consideration through demonstrations, rituals that sometimes go beyond common sense. The original intention was not bad in itself, but over time there was too much abuse in the funeral system. These turn most often into a place of reunion between friends and relatives but also into opportunities to extort widows, orphans, and widowers.
These practices which persist in the name of a certain tradition or cultural solidarity must cease or at best must be eradicated there all the negative aspects of which for example to fill the coffin of the loincloths kitas and jewels of values, shoes. We must also stop impoverishing widows, widowers, orphan children by racketeering them as much as possible in addition to exorbitant expenses. These practices therefore have harmful effects and I call here on the State of Côte d’Ivoire to take a close look at it by taking rigorous measures in this direction. No national of these regions of the country dares to speak about it publicly for lack of losing his life there, this is also the other side of our traditions in Africa. Everyone recognizes that it is not good but no one dares to speak about it in the name of ancestral values in Africa.
Téa Labée has made some changes:
Thanks to Téa Labbé, a priest in the region at the time, had initiated actions, some of which are shown below. He felt that there were a lot of unnecessary and even harmful practices and so he started pushing some changes. Unfortunately, being ill and subsequently dying, he was unable to complete the immense work he had begun. Below are some changes introduced:
1-The body is no longer transferred to its village of origin. The deceased must be buried in her husband’s village if she is still married to her husband during her long-awaited lifetime. At the time it was the fight on the choice of the place of the burial between the parents of the deceased and her parents-in-law
2-The funerals that I would qualify as funerals on the fortieth day are abolished. At the time, these ceremonies could take place even a year after the burial. It was also an opportunity to ask for more money for not having buried such and such with dignity, for example in the past. This step is abolished thanks to Téa Labbée. Today, everyone separates on the Monday after the funeral, except for a few close family members who can still drag their feet.
3-We no longer bang our heads against walls or against trees as in the past
4-We no longer scratch our faces
5-We no longer roll on the ground as a general rule
Strongly that these current practices are reviewed and improved for the well being of the populations because they become more harmful than useful.
See you again in a little over two months.
Dr. Charles Koudou, Health Administrator
Independent Consultant in Health and Development
Founder of the Civil Society National Conscience for Development
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Funerals among the Bétés and Didas of the Ivory Coast: Cultural solidarity or pure organized scam?
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