hands in the air

 

Written by Jenny Goldade

 

Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.

 

But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.

 

This article looks at Mali Dogon people funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Moldovan funeral traditions and Laotian funeral traditions, among others.

 

Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.

 

Mali Dogon People

The Mali Dogon people live in central Mali, located in western Africa. Their population is between 400,000 and 800,000 people. Traditionally, they had their own cultural religion. Today, most of the country of Mali practices Islam, with almost 95% of the population identifying as Muslim.

 

Rituals Following a Death

The Mali Dogon people have traditional funeral rituals and dances. Traditionally, they believed that the spirits could cause bad luck if they didn’t do the rituals. However, these traditions aren’t as common today and are often only done for tourists.

 

When someone passes away, they place the body in a shroud on the ritual stage. The village leader and another volunteer perform a mock battle with spears to ward off evil spirits and help the deceased’s soul get to the afterlife. They also may sacrifice animals such as cows before the ritual funeral dance.

 

Mali Dogon Funeral Dance

Traditionally, the Mali Dogon did multiple funeral dances, such as right after the death, for the funeral, and even several years after the death. Today, as mentioned earlier, it’s mainly performed for tourists visiting the area.

 

For the funeral dance, the dancers wear carved masks. The masks have more than sixty different meanings, including symbols for the worlds of the living and the dead. The designs vary from village to village. They secure the masks with their teeth to keep them on their face. If a woman is pregnant, they might not be able to touch the mask since the masks are associated with death.

 

While the dancers perform to the song’s beat, musicians also play drums, whistles, and other instruments. Depending on the song, people may sing or chant along and change their masks during the performance. Click here to see some photos from a funeral dance.

 

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