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A Celebration of Life in Guinea-Bissau-Part 1

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Hi guys,

Nice to write to you again! Today I am here to share a few lines of experience from my origin country, Guinea Bissau. I traveled there with my family to attend a traditional funeral for my uncle. To go to Guinea Bissau, people can go by flight or car. I went by car and it is usually stressful and a very long journey because it takes two days by road. It is only two hours by flight.


I went with all the family because it was the traditional burial which is called in Manjago “kalas poum” of my grandfather who died three years ago. Our village is called Kapol, a very nice village. I love going there, the nature is beautiful and it is a calm place though sometimes the weather is very hot in the afternoon. There is no electricity but some houses installed solar system and at night we use the brightness of the moon as street light- it is often very bright.


The ceremony takes two weeks or more at a time due to the different occasions that take place day by day. Today, I will share about the first week of ceremonies. The burial takes four days.


On the first day the women gather to pound the cous cous pancake then cook it for the next day. The second day begins with a sacrifice of a goat and a hen to appease the spirits. The day also includes the questioning of the spirit, which is called “ouchoss”. This is done because not all deaths are natural- some are killed either by murder or spiritual death (similar to a curse). The ouchoss is done so the person’s spirit can reveal his or her cause of death. After the ouchoss, the goat and hen are cooked for a meal in the compound.

The ceremony begins on evening of the third day with the traditional drumming (our drummers, shown to the left) to remind us of our ancestors' presence from five to seven. At the same time, relatives cook different meals and bring it to the house to thank their deceased parents who passed away. At eight, the program starts and we sing and dance the whole night till the following day (shown below to the right. I am on the right side of the photo!)

We dance all night to celebrate the person’s long life. However, if a young person passes, there is no dancing, only the drumming. People cry a lot as well when the person was young.

On the morning of the fourth day, cows, pigs, and goats are killed for the feast. The women do the cooking while the traditional drummers continue with their drumming and incantations. People usually wear the same clothing as the day before, or print the person’s picture on clothes if we desire. We take pictures to make the day memorable. On my next blog post I will explain the second ceremony which is called “kalump I tchape”


Thanks for reading about the traditions of my home!

With love,

Touty


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