Fieldnotes from Somie village - death and funerals

Background to these notes Note: all the names of people in these notes have been changed.

Funeral One- Death of Aconite Jane

Note: this occured during my Second period of fieldwork.

8/1/87 2pm Death of Aconite Jane Hse xx - Wife of Agrimony
Alder with tape measure asks them if he can go round to measure for the coffin. Desperate search for planks.
c. 2 pm Alkanet arrives at my house looking for planks for sale since 'the wife of my father has died now at the dispensary' - she must have gone there yesterday evening. We ask Amaranth Charles who says ask Alpenrose but she's not here at present.

Sketch plan of the relative location of the houses mentioned

Plan of houses

I follow Alkanet and meet procession coming up from Dispensary - body covered in blankets on stretcher. Agrimony behind, women fore and aft, a few men just behind stretcher. Very few tears. Agrimony notably restrained.
In what followed he sat beside house xx facing my house, not speaking not participating. This after rushing around a bit and trying to get planks.
2.40pm (at home) suddenly women's crying break out. Silent till now. Why? I'll go back there.
Agrimony and Arnica (F of Arum) now alone (plus me) in front of house 92. Women entered his house xxy and shrieking there. Qn: where is the body? A: in there too.

Continue recap. When got to Agrimony's there was discussion of where to bury her? A.: Behind house xy.
Now 2.50 Evangelist arrives. Service to follow.
10 to 5 pm Back from burial. Recap - Agrimony beside house. The body was put behind house 94 and women gathered around it. Some men and one woman exposed back of head and began pulling out the hair decoration. Soap and water were fetched then the men left. I was told they were doing her hair and washing the body.
I came back to my house then on the when the keening started went back to find Agrimony and Arnica above...
Then women and Baneberry and a few other men in house xx Agrimony's big house. The body in sheet then wrappa was in centre of floor wrapped in kurakura mat.
Evangelist arrived, entered house and started a short service.
Agrimony dodged round the corner - sight of my notebook? I think not - as the Evangelist entered the house. Arnica dragged him back. Sat him down again.
Then chief's wife (Agrimony's eBd) arrived, ran into house and wept. Agrimony broke down again, curled up, head in elbow, hand on top of skull. Arnica loudly, forcibly, angrily(?) said

Nde nong nde nong
be calm be calm
wò né nùàr kú
you is man big
nde nong
kema or sie [I forget] tema yeh
touch or seize your liver "heart"

... which he did.

Before this I was at Aspen David's watching the coffin being made. A daughter? Sister in law? from house 105 returned carrying wood. Dropped basket - hearing the news and ran shrieking into the house. Another woman came and comforted her. They went and joined the other women.
Meanwhile about five men were making the coffin behind Aspen David's house and also a grave was being dug at the mission graveyard - who's existence I'd not heard of before - very overgrown.
The coffin was brought to the veranda, the body lifted in - wrapped only in the sheet. Then there was a discussion/confusion about which side was up - the corpse had to be turned so the right hand was up [NB the persistence of 'traditional rites in amidst Christian burial]. The Agrimony went to it and lifted sheet - touched face or chest I couldn't see. Lid was then nailed and carried on three poles underneath (which had been nailed on) to graveyard.
Three twinned chandong vines were put underneath, twisted round each other. Then the poles were knocked off. Then a some Christian prayers and a hymn - in fulfulde because the dispensary staff were there. Coffin lowered in. Evangelist three shovels for. Agrimony pushed forwards and threw in a handful. He alone sat throughout. Had to be pulled up and pushed off afterwards.
the singing being led by the choir of young adolescent girls.
203/95 8/1/87 6pm I returned to Agrimony's -people gathering. Aster, Avens Edward Azalea from Nggwe etc etc. Badassi Anne and another woman arrives, enters house 92 (full of women - men outside) and as she does so clutches both hands to head and starts shrieking. Inarticulate at first then lying full length on floor becoming more articulate (saying guna mo? Did I hear right? and possibly something about not seeing again ...) Men outside tut tutting at female excesses of emotion...

7pm in Bar with Balm Frank and Balsam Graham - both trained dispensary nurses Mbiti working (at that point) at the local dispensary. Martin said they at the dispensary didn't know she was ill until 2 days ago. Said that she'd had cerebral meningitis (or malaria?) in the past and had never properly recovered.
Proverb, often quoted partially in response to death:
if days finished end medicine none neg.

9/1/87 6.15am Big gathering. Service led by Baneberry with short prayer by Ndomeni Jean (ex catholic catechist). Then long contribution including a bible reading from Kwahi Josué

10/1/86 Basil on three days rite at Agrimony's:
If spirit enter house yrs, it give thing wind evil all all wife yrs is ill, child yrs...
Field photos of this

6.30 No service but Beech roasting chicken alive - cuar leh. Basil said what they do is brush your forehead with leaves of fuo yeh.
If they did this I didn't see it -- working with Basil -- about 9.30/45. I returned. We talked about chiefs... Near firestone where the morning chicken had been roasted a pot covered in banana leaves - the chicken had been roasted with fuo yeh leaves/flower heads.
Banana leaves were spread in front of the fire place - by Beech - some (2 cakes) of fufu [maize porridge] were produced (I think they waited for that)
Beech shook some leh from a plastic packet beside the fufu then broke lots of small lumps off, then laid them out on the leaf about ten at once. Then taking one in each hand he dipped each one in the leh, touched to leh, then to a firestone. Then fed himself then Agrimony then various people. Feeding others they'd dip and touch tongue to fufu in his right hand before taking the lumps in their hands (some in both hands cupped together). Ten minutes later he divided chicken and repeated fufu in oil with bits of chicken. I joined men in house to eat. Some bits of chicken leh brought in eaten alone.
Two hands touch firestone, then hold out to recipient who touches tongue on that of R hand. Then put in hands and then eat R then L. Now dividing chicken. Pour water from gourd onto hands over cinders.
so spirit you follow again-NEG

15 Feb 88
Chatting with Agrimony
his guna and nyen e and y Z of dead wife enter her house
He says on Wednesday is 4o day sarega for her
Will remove string round his neck and put on new clothes. I'd not thought about it but he's been wearing the same clothes ever since.
I asked if old ones were buried he said no but would give them to someone else...
shaved head service 9 am by the Evangeliste 205/76

Funeral note

30/3/88 Angelica's B died within last 40 days so she will dance women's sua (the women's masquerade) but not paint her body with camwood.
Men tie string round neck for 40 days for death of wife
Women tie string round neck for death of kin and husband.

Funeral note


Final funeral rites. After forty days - now often the nearest Sunday to 40 days - women go to river to remove the "we" cords and to put them in a hole in the bank downstream.
the widow is treated first, her head shaved and neck and waist strings cut and buried by he woman who tied them on.
Angelica etc having tied her own could cut it herself.
Discussion of the propriety of me being there - after removing the we they strip and wash themselves so I tactfully withdrew Photos f301 and 303

Mbe Sa - beer on grave

Field photos of this

Long and tortured argument with Beet and Azalea about whether it was julu for me to go to BH's mbe sa.
Beet saying julu don't go - but very clearly teasing. Azalea trying to disparage him. Bilberry John who also arrived at the beer drink raised the question of whether tomorrow is mbe sa of Chief or not. Roundly denied. Just BH.
Question what is the relationship of Beet and Azalea to BH?
Beet is nyu to BH because Beet's M was full sister son of BH's F. Beet calls BH tele ku (big father) according to BH, Beet says he calls him bi (eB)!

Lincoln clears the site of the graves with a hoe.
Birch, Bistort, Blackberry, Blackthorn, Blinks, Bluebell, Bogbean Julian, Azalea, Amaranth Charles, Borage the teacher, Box, Bramble Lawrence
Lincoln in response to heavy duty prompting pours beer three times across the grave (east end).
Spears ringing and pointing up in the air. Then all gather at west end of grave and point spears towards East at rising sun. 3x he spurts beer over the spears. Mustn't touch ground with spears until return to village.
Then Brome Angelica Anemone Apple appeared. They pointed fingers and Lincoln spurted beer over their hands.

When talking abut what they had done the act of pouring the beer on the grave is described as cutting not pouring - I asked why. The beer is poured in a line which cuts the East-most end of the grave. therefore a cut not a pour...

Sisters sons have privilege access to the possessions of their MB. If you reclaim things from your nyu (ZS) then they will be cross with you, your heart and spirit will be bad.
The Zs pours beer "so all things will be good, so that spirit wants/likes you"

Broom Nigel arrived late from Mynyam. Beet says that today they will dance Njehp others say no its Tadup they will dance. The vase of beer is left beside the grave with the dregs in it. Tomorrow Lincoln will come back, finish the dregs and then bring the vase back. Tomorrow morning the men will go and hunt - with the blessings they now have they should be successful. Nothing said of what to do if the hunt is unsuccessful.
11am Assemble for beer drink at BH's.
Bugle says that in the old days you poured beer on grave on the day of the death of your father (i.e. the day in the traditional ten day week). Henceforth on that day you did no farm work .

BH formal speech to everyone there.
This is similar but different.
We all drink one gourd of beer and go happy. To argue would be bad. It would damage the home. The dead they look and see us (208/59) see inside us. We drink thankfully and then they see we are happy... BH thanked the chief and us all...
Now he's repeating the speech outside. Something about no more millet, buying the millet for this beer from Tibati.

Vase of beer. He asks chief's permission before pouring the first gourd - or at least gets eye contact so chief knows what's happening and gives a slight nod. First gourd given to Alder Barry. Blackthorn says mistake: should have been given to Beet as nyu. The appropriate stand in for the chief.
{NB Chief as practising Muslim does not drink. His friend and senior councillor Alder was deputising for him, but Beet is a nyu to the chief as well as to BH so in this case would have been the appropriate stand in according to Blackthorn).
3.45pm Much singing and dancing going on at BH's

Evangelist, Nurses and Teachers were invited to drink at Amaranth C's - by BH.
Also Mbe guna organised by women (I know no more than this).
With Evangelist met Bugloss going back very pissed off - he'd thought it was BH's mbe guna so had turned up - he must be a guna...
Gossip with Demeter 11am 6/4/87
Today was BH's hunt - but BH didnt go because he had a hangover!
NB Tailu and Evangelist yesterday were suggesting that properly the hunt should be on the same day as mbe sa not the day after - on the way back from the grave perhaps? I'm not sure.

Two funerals for the price of one

17/12/90 Mid-way through the biannual Ngguwn rites (the ritual re-coronation of the chief)
17/12/90 9am Bryony's corpse returns in a coffin in a car. She died at Mayo Darlé (c. 100 km away) in the night. Bulrush Christine goes into hysterics, collapses is held by group of women - many people ran towards the car which had flowers stuck in the bumpers.
Much screaming. I can't face it.
Qn where is Burdock and Burnet Nicholas since Burnets is son of Bryony... their car left this am - perhaps they've gone via Bankim or Sonkolong? Else they would have met the 'hearse' on the road!
10.30am another woman goes into the house of women and immediately starts to cry. Eee Eee Eeee gulping in air before each shriek/exhalation - working up in volume and intensity. Others in the house start up again and one of them shakes a rattle in time to the whoops. They start to sing a hymn partially submerging the crying.
11.30 m Grave digging party return from burial at mission cemetery.
12.30 burial most people went but not all e.g. Aster.
501/72 Bryony Funeral 20/12/90
Shave head (kuop feh) of all her kin and husband
Bryony's third Husband was Butterbur who died more than 10 years ago where upon they made Butterwort 'Papa'
h2 =
h1 = Calamint Nevil
501/74 21/12/90 This am still a group of people at the funeral of Bryony - and food still being provided to all men (and I assume all women present).
501/82 22/12/90 Funeral gathering for Bryony continues with beer, palm wine and bottled beer being distributed.
Tonight is women's sua (the women's masquerade) for Butterwort's wife - the forty day funerary dance - forty day feast tomorrow .
I didn't know she had died.
NB t502A ma's sarega tson3b
21/1/91 Huomfa d of Bryony says the sarega for Bryony will be on Sunday next - after 40 days- which is tomorrow (as I remember it)
She says will be lots of women's sua (the women's masquerade) dancing!
502/92 24/1/91 8.30 am Preparations Bryony's sarega funeral
17 dishes - frying beer grounds ke tàgà
3 mortars - girls pounding yeast - 2 on each mortar alternating the pestles standing and using one hand on the pestle 1 down the other up...
Other women bring firewood.
3pm Making framework for shade shelter outside Bulrush/Bryony's house going to Campion's empty house. Structure of forked poles and palm ribs horizontally - will be covered with palm fronds.
502/95 26/1/91 4pm At Basil's heard about dispute about arrangement of Bryony's sarega - will women's sua (the women's masquerade) be tonight or tomorrow? Tonight BUT first will be Protestant service and Evangelist insists that he and the catechists must leave before any start to sua - but must do sua because B. was BIG person in sua.
502/96 26/1/91 4.30pm Evangelist says service at sarega 8-9.30 ish c. 10 dance till dawn then tomorrow mass the whole works there. 10-12. Then just play? I wonder how much I can avoid?
502/97 26/1/91 8.30pm Bryony's sarega
Confusion. c 7.30 about organisation - people still coming to ask Burnets about what would happen - no one seemed sure that the evangelist would come - which he and the choir duly did ... I left them singing...
Beer being served - dok/nguma what is the difference?
As I arrived c. 7.30 some people in side room shut the door - where I think they were eating - shocking...
502/97 10.20pm End of service. I arrived c. 9.15 to find service in progress. Readings and songs - some dancing. 9.45 service of songs - I and others thought the end but then longish Mambila language reading - long pause for quiet - women in background talking organising. Then longer pause for quiet before Caraway gave LONG talk in Mambila - mutters in background increased as it progressed.
Then Evangelist rose and said 'The End' but don't ask me again to a thing like (502/99) this - you do what you want to do but if they say càng tam in Somie village - its true and there are car loads from Bang-Lingam villages here to do sua not to do the true thing (i.e. Christian rites). - now hymns being sung as beer is brought out... People dance - arms raised - uplifted praising...
- amazing how in semi-darkness you can feel the inattention, boredom, hostility...
Now question is how to manage the transition.
11pm I don't know - because Carline Mayday took me to the bar and gave me beer! We returned to find women's sua (the women's masquerade) being danced outside Ba's house - round corner in road to dispensary - round corner from shelter where the service was done... Men dancing in centre of circle, some men dancing, getting caught in group of women and dodging out to outer circumference. LOTS of beer - BIG casserole being produced. Evangelist Baneberry and Celadine in a group on edge - on point of leaving or of being taken to a house to drink in peace! NB When we got to the bar the (502/100) main bit was close - there had been a fight I was told. Don't know any details, probably never will.
Carline Mayday giving me beer -insistent that I was 'kin' stranger coming to his village therefore he would give me beer. I'm touched - shamed - the word he used - saying it would be feh guli for him not to give - but granted the actions of his compatriots the feh guli sie ne moi!
Women's sua (the women's masquerade) now on going. I think all the drums are juar tap and one sogo (bell) will check tomorrow.
Good night 11.15
27/1/91 6.30am c. midnight chefferie drums started going. Danced all night. Stopped c 5am re first light
6.30 I went out to greet - fire and drums moved to small space between Bulrush/Bryony's houses - only women some still dancing slowly. One doing something with chicken - I think holding feet an putting it into fire - I was told to clear off - Julu! (Taboo) Hoho No signs or anything. young men drumming round corner no signs of any seniors

7.15am 27/1/91
I think the drumming singing has changed to the morning song "ha mi chuar ndogo yeh" - or do women only sing that after men's sua (the male masquerade)?
8.40 am the dancing singing stopped c. 7.30-7.45. Now some people (men) sitting under the shelter, while women of the house and helpers beginning to prepare food - beer from others is being filtered - BH has 2 big and 2 small casseroles ready to send. people are preparing for church and the feast!
12.20pm 27/1/91
Preparations getting frantic - preparing for chief - beer bogo [pottery vase for beer] approx. 20, casseroles more than 10 and several cases of beer and lots of food all out ready to serve. people gathering then some people started moving to chefferie square.
What? Several elders start up
- 2 cars arrived
- death - 3 days ago
- son of Bilberry - teacher at Bertoua died 24/1/91 or 23rd?
Chaos. Screaming women - hands locked behind head - most people rush off to Bilberry's - the party here is ruined. Beer is covered only close kin and hard lags stay. Aster says 'but we must eat, we must drink - they (5K/58) have to dig grave and bury him, so what is there to do but to drink...'
Exasperation - sort of feeling of Charlock and the d's - all of their work ruined. Burnets is not in evidence.
It gets worse - Bilberry had gone to visit - hearing that he was ill - crossed on road.
Now some - his W? Kin? are saying wait, don't bury until Bilberry comes but Aster says 'bury him.'
12.50 Birch appears and says they're not digging.
All the beer now being put away - put back in one place
1.15pm It was lies that no grave digging apparently by Bareya who didn't want to go and help!
I went there c.12.50. They were digging grave behind house. In big house choir singing - including something to tune of Auld Lang Synne.
Men behind house watching, women in house, under granary. Some other men outside house of Balm Dr [a neighbour].
I return [to the site of Bryony's funerary party]- apparently it has been decided that once it has been buried they will come back here to eat and drink! as before ...
That is what has been decided here - what the consensus up there is I don't know -
on my way back I passed Chervil carrying a case of beer - I don't know if from here or not.
[About the death of Bilberry's son]. Apparently after Nggwun his wife had gone to join him - his first wife. He'd had BIG cough =pneumonia? for a long time. Now a new illness has entered - AIDS?
Bilberry has gone to Bafoussam to visit his eB not to Bertoua as I had thought.

Fuo Kubu

30/1/91 Back in Somié
1) Bilberry and Chestnut (the eSon in Bafoussam) returned on Arum - the 3 day feast was this am.
2) Clary died this pm. As I returned c 5.45 I saw Chive Nigel carrying drum up the hill => died c 4pm.
Apparently he was ill, got better then now died after a v. small sudden illness.
5K/62 7.30 am 31/1/91 Thursday.

Kubu Fuo at Clary's - Aster and Cleavers Nigel.

Field photos of this
NB Chief came and down left as I arrived.
Fuo and kogo and cockerel - in bundle used for treatment.
Kulu 3x with so
then on pile of possessions - taken from the house in order to do this - then put back
then close kin i.e. children and gchn
Face east in line
2x down line touching hands
then ground L to R
then 3x R to L
Then Cleavers kills the chicken- holds the neck between its legs, wing tips together with the legs - in one hand
5K/63 leh kùm - done with other chicken
- illness of neck and sides
- if breathing is poor, painful
done now since Clary had leh many and if not will seize small children
Man stands and makes speech in Highland (Gembu) dialect which I cant follow (but they can) - about what rites should be done I think. What was done in the past.
8am 5 chief's wives leave as a group - were in house with wife.
Cleavers and the Gembu man go to look for nyuri leh.
Bîn -leaves. Small amount put in roof by Cleavers - he's now butchering the chicken but he had it - small sprig earlier - before he went off - now I see he went to get the banana leaves, the Gembu man gone for nyuri leh.
Aster has reappeared , was absent - nyuri leh?- during the discussion with the man from Gembu.
Yes, he now produces bundle from his pocket and gets out so.
Gembu man puts packet of mbo and some leaves, then others put onto embers - sweet smelling
- takes them off as they're scorched
- calls for people who have touched the corpse (8.20am)
5K/65 Squeeze leaves onto maize then into his mouth
3x - Clematis (the Gembu man) holds hand as he does it, then done to Clematis.
Then all there who touched body - or even those who saw it are treated.
So far only the scorched leaves -mbo and other leaves untouched.
Now treating the mound of nyuri leh in centre of court yard, once done the leaves put down on it.
Finally the two doing it lick and spit the corn cob 3x.
Now takes the bîn - puts some with mbo some with the other leaf - tears the two open/apart along spine - saying something, licks 3x (5K/66) holds to lips rather, no spitting - no: must bite a v. small bit
- treating all those as above who touched the corpse - 3 small bites.
He dampens his fingers/hands rubs on mbo then licks from R, L I think, R left knuckles then rubs on shoulders/bottom of neck, R L side - kidneys and small of back.
All of these accompanied by invocations which I cant follow.
Cleavers is dividing chicken and leaves. Some to Calypso and women.
Birch goes and picks more - san maveh (a species of sage). Meanwhile Cleavers cuts san onto leg held by Calypso. first over her R should then 3x cut then she tips into the bowl the she can go - he cuts into the bowl.
What the Gembu man is doing is the leh for kùm - including Cloudberry Morgan the Catholic Catechiste!
Cleavers cuts the chicken up into the bowl. The intestine of the chicken is being washed - will be added to the pot.
[Mud] Bricks used as firestones.
Kùm finished he puts remains of the mbo down on the leh mound and calls for those treated to hold/touch him - only Chive Nigel rises and does it...
Aster has vanished
Now picks up corncob addresses one of the g.sons - must use it for the mbe sarega (funerary beer).
5k/68 Before roasting the chicken Cleavers pulled out some of the feathers. He now wraps these in plastic and puts them in fork of Kukwum [manioc plant] stalk.
Cleavers's leh is fùò.
Birch goes. 8.45am. We now wait for it to cook.
I ask about tying to ladders
a) only nuar leh/nuar ku person with medicine/person who is big (senior).
b) tie pipe in one hand, knife in another
c) blow smoke from pipe into mouth so stomach doesn't swell
d) Hint that its so people outside think he's still alive
Yamba roast/smoke bodies if they die far away so can bury them at home.
5k/69 Gembu (main Mambila town in Nigeria c. 70 km away) sua comes out for funerals, not here.
NB as I left c. 9am hadn't finished cooking the chicken.
On the path I met Aster returning - he'd been for nyuri leh (grass medicine) to do the fùò.
Birch explained later - chicken and leaves put into your two hands cupped together, you eat.
Shave heads, tie string on neck of siblings and spouses.
Not Birch because he is guna of Clary - Calypso [Birch's wife] is kin.
fùò mò ne hiun - not affines only kin.

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