Secondary Funeral among the Bimonkpom Tribe of the Konkomba People of Ghana

  • Henryk Zimoń The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Faculty of Theology
Keywords: secondary funeral; mourning; puryfying rites; divinatory rites; farewell rites; ancestry; the Konkomba people; the Bimonkpom tribe; northern Ghana


The Konkomba, like other African peoples, do not consider the fact of death as immediate and final nor the dead person as either living or finally dead. Among the Konkomba, this transitory period between burial and secondary funeral lasts three or four years. The transitory period finishes with the secondary funeral, which lasts five to seven days. In a very expansive village of Sambul, including as many as 10 lineages and comprising about 95 homesteads, the secondary funeral took place simultaneously in eight lineages. The paper presents and analyses the secondary funeral in the lineage of Mpwando, where the author took part. This funeral lasted six days and was held between 26 April and 1 May, 1991.

Comparing this secondary funeral of the Bimonkpom tribe in the village of Sambul with three secondary funerals of the Bichabob tribe in the villages of Nalongni, Sobib and Kumawa- teek, both similarities and certain differences can be observed in a number of customs and rites. Because of a large number of deceased people only in Sambul, divination rites were held on the second and third days. However, as a custom, divination on the third day in Sambul was more important, which confirms the significance of this day for divination among the Konkomba. A complete novelty in Sambul was visiting the market place by widows and accompanying persons in the evening of the third day. In the village of Sambul the widows did not visit the farm in the bush belonging to the oldest man or other older men, which is done in the tribes of Bichabob and Nakpantiib. In the tribes of Bimonkpom, Binalob and Bigbem, the widows visit the farm of the oldest man a few days after the burial. Shooting at a pole and a rooster in Sambul closes exceptionally the secondary funeral. Among the Bicha- bob the presentation and division of personal belongings of the deceased old men always ends the secondary funeral.

The costly celebration of the secondary funeral, which requires a substantial financial spending on food and beer, is held in each lineage of Sambul every few years in remembrance of all who died since the last secondary funeral. It is only after the secondary funeral that a dead old man (or an old woman) can attain the dignity of an ancestor and his property (land, wives, sacred objects and power) is inherited and taken over via the mediation of the oldest member of the lineage by the dead person’s relatives who are his lineal descendants, that is brothers and sons, according to the principle of primogeniture.

The secondary funeral finishes the transitory period of uncertainty, opens the way for the dead to the ancestors’ realm and confirms that older men and women have achieved the dignity of ancestors. From that time on, the Konkomba recall the deceased men and women together with other ancestors in the rituals that have home, lineage, clan and supraclan character performed in different life situations. In an attitude of respect and trust, they try - through their prayers and offerings - to gain the support and favour of the ancestors, who - as mediators between god Uwumbor and the living - take an active part in the life of the community and influence the fate of the living.

The performance of different rites and symbolical activities of the secondary funeral emphasizes that the dead and the community change their roles and functions. The dead person is transformed from somebody who threatens the community to its guardian as a member of the invisible community of the dead. The secondary funeral ultimately finishes the mourning period after the dead, it confirms triumph of the community over death, emphasizes the value of life and leads the community through the hard crisis caused by the death of its members. Besides, the secondary funeral integrates the ethnic groups, helps the living people to accept the new status, and introduces them into the normal relations with the relatives and other people.


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