Rites of Passage:
Rites of passage marked important phases of transition
in African life: birth and the naming ceremony; puberty and its attendant
ceremonies; marriage and the attainment of social adulthood; death and
the rituals that transposed the deceased into an ancestor. Christian rituals
came to complement or supplant these: baptism and the indigenous naming
ceremony intertwined; confirmation and first communion became an important
puberty rite; traditional marriage rites often preceded the church wedding
ceremony; and funerals were replete with indigenous and Christian rites.
Confirmation and baptismal classes preceded these rituals in Christianity
to ensure converts understood the basic tenets of the Christian faith
(D-30.03.049 and E-30.29.009).
E.30.29.009-012 presents the first four married Christian couples in Fumban
(Bamum). What did the Christian marriage ritual mean for these Bamum couples?
Had the Christian understanding of marriage displaced the indigenous one?
Obviously Christian marriage did not allow for polygamy, but were the
spousal expectations in marriage any different? The married couples are
here seen in white while their friends and relatives are in darker cloths.
The idea of a "white wedding" is a Christian import and has come to typify
the Christian wedding in West Africa. Wedding presents had certainly not
changed, and E-30.29.011
shows the wedding presents - firewood, baskets, cooking pots, grain and
water containers - considered necessary for the new role of the bride
as wife and the one in charge nourishment in the new home. E-30.27.001
shows a funeral dance in a courtyard in Bali. There are mostly women in
attendance, semi-nude with only loincloths. Bali men were often more fully
clothed than their women, a different understanding of gender sensibility.
But funerals and other rites of passage were sometimes marked by distinctive
dress or appearance. In D-30.14.065
we see the half-shaven heads of children in Abetifi after the death of
a relative. This is a distinctive haircut distinguishing funerals from
ordinary haircuts. Death is believed to have brought "dirt," which needed
to be cleansed. Shaving the heads of those closely related to the deceased
effected this. In the case of children, shaved heads was not only to cleanse
them, but also to depict their orphaned state. The children in this picture
probably lost a parent. The funerals of chiefs and other important personalities
were grander scale.
CONTACT & CREDITS