We were told yesterday that we were going to a “community drumming” session in a nearby village. We were kinda stressed. We weren’t keen to show off our “skills” as freestyle dancers or drummers, surrounded by people who had been doing this kind of thing their whole life. Nonetheless, we practiced a basic dance move we could do to limit the embarrassment.
Fast forward to the afternoon, a couple minutes before we got in the rickety vans that we use to get around, people start talking and we find out that we’re headed to a funeral, more specifically, a funeral for a member of Unity, the drumming group from Dagbamete. Some of the parents had already gone to a funeral here but most of us had no idea what to expect. We arrived after a slightly harrowing journey and already, it was giving off an odd vibe. There were sellers everywhere surrounding the main funeral area, balancing things like popcorn, ice cream and water in huge buckets on their head. Kind of different. And now the main event.
In the square where the funeral was held was a huge tree, surrounded by rows of benches spiralling off from the centre. As far as the eye could see was black. Black cloth, black shirts and beautiful, wrinkled black skin. We were pretty obviously outsiders, dressed in our bright clothes, toting around camera cases and water bottles. Before entering the gauntlet of people, we greeted the elders (all decked out in the cloth of the Unity group, as well as small, bright red knitted toques) of the villages that were part of Unity. We did the standard snap handshake and exchanged pleasantries with the elders, and went and sat down in the front rows around the tree.
There was a singer, chanting in Ewe, sporting a large gold necklace. People were up and dancing, drumming filled the air and we felt awkward. As soon as we sat down, we were warmly welcomed by all and brought up to dance. It was still awkward, dancing in an almost conga line of people who were obviously naturals at this. They’d say you were doing great and then correct you but they were obviously touched that this group of awkward, self-conscious westerners were attending this ceremony. We’d go down the aisles of people, dancing stiffly until someone would grab us and we’d join a small separate circle of dancers, all doing a standard Ghanaian dance move. It was fun… and stressful and different than anything we’d ever really done.
Eventually, after about half an hour or so, the song being sung by the whole gathering ended and everyone sat down. Another song started again and instead of everyone joining in, small pockets of dancing erupted, started by one person asking a couple others to join them. As you danced, or even watched, it was easy to forget that it was a funeral, a time where family and friends would have grieved if we had found ourselves in Canada. Instead, it was clearly a celebration of a life lived to the fullest. Someone had passed on but no one was crying, rather they danced and sang and laughed. It was a party, but it was full of honour as well.
After a while, the coffin was brought in. From the beginning of the funeral, we’d assumed that it was a memorial, the deceased buried and the celebration less formal and so it was a shock that the coffin was there at all. The coffin itself was fancy, glossy white with gold and silver trimmings, a contrast to my Canadian ideal of a simple, regal coffin. Maybe 10 or so men, less traditionally dressed than the rest of the crowd, came into the centre of the square, the coffin hoisted above their heads. The coffin then went through a slightly rough landing on top of a couple benches. For maybe 15 minutes, members of Unity danced around the coffin, doing simple but graceful movements.
A couple marriage proposals later, a man then gestured to four Baobab girls and motioned us over. We were hesitant to say the least. It wasn’t quite on our bucket lists to dance around a dead body but oh well. We got up and we were placed in a girl-guy-girl-guy order, using the guy’s four sons and us. We did the basic dance step in a circle around the casket until the lead drum called out the ending and we sat down, feeling a little giddy from the odd experience.
One of our favourite things about the event was a little girl, wearing a bright red traditional dress, almost lost in the sea of blacks and browns that the rest of the congregation was sporting. She was probably around 2 years old and it was clear that dancing was in her blood. She was pulling off the moves the rest were doing, little arms and legs moving slightly slower than everyone else but her spirit was strong and she was full of joy.
The afternoon wasn’t what we had expected and it definitely wasn’t anything we could have imagined but we’re glad we went and saw what we saw and experienced what we experienced. We are definitely going to remember it, to say the least!
-Magda and Adriana (WHO ARE IN GHANA!!!!!!!)