Burkina Faso: Rites, festivals and a new book

To everything, claims the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes (and the 1960s U.S. rock band the Byrds), there is a season. A time to be born. A time to die. It happens in Burkina Faso just like anywhere else.

Lacking any stories of birth or labor, we’ll skip straight to one of our most important rites of passage – the union of two people in the ceremony of marriage. These observations of a village wedding come from Ramblings from Rhadikha in Burkina:

Not unlike in America, weddings are good times with wild and crazy dancing and acceptable public drunkenness. Unlike American weddings, everyone is invited. Those immediately involved go to the “mayor’s” house for the exchanging of vows and signing of contracts. That is the equivalent of the ceremony. No one but the bride, the groom, and their parents are expected to be interested in that part. There are no registries with china patterns and cutlery. Your gift is showing up and getting down. The party starts at sunset and ends when the roosters start cock-a-doodle-doo-ing. The bartender is someone’s underage cousin serving up home brewed millet beer in nature’s beer mug, a dried gourd. There is drumming, dancing, and chanting of the sort that one might see on the discovery channel.

Gorom-Gorom, Burkina Faso’s most northern major city (485 kilometers north of Ouagaodugou), is home to “Festicham,” an annual festival that boasts horse and camel racing and a local craft and culture exhibition. This year, Keith from Under the Acacias made it to the festival just in time:

We arrived late, during the second heats of camel races. The whole town seemed to be there, along with a couple of government ministers, accompanying police guards, and a bunch of Italians who apparently finance the whole thing. Dust filled the air, kicked up by hundreds of hooves of various sizes, and thousands of feet.

Let’s stay with Keith a little longer. After 15 years of electing to live in Gorom-Gorom without electricity, his “woodless construction” mud hut leaped directly into the 21st century with the addition of electricity supplied from the town grid and a telephone link with an internet hook up, too.

After so many years of peace and quiet, these new additions take some time to get used to, reports Keith. After finishing his first blog post written and posted from home, he wonders whether “it might be time to leave Gorom-Gorom, and move somewhere a bit more remote…”

Stephen Davies, from Voice in the Desert, spent a little time in Ouagadougou late last year finishing up his last “tweaks” on the final installment of his children’s trilogy that takes place respectively in Oudalan Province in northern Burkina Faso (and home to Gorom-Gorom) and Niger. The first two installments include Sophie and the Yellow Cake Conspiracy and Sophie and the Locust Curse. Steven’s third book, originally titled Sophie and the Crooked General, has recently been renamed to Sophie and the Pancake Plot, he reports. The book is due out sometime in September 2008.

Because people live much closer to nature in rural Burkina Faso, death is constant companion. Charlie from Blooming Desert describes a loss from the animal world:

 “He's in a bad way, I'm afraid”, said Steve, carrying the patient across the bus station. Six hours of dust, fumes and bone-rattling on the road from Ouagadougou had clearly been too much. His head was limp, his whole body flaccid. We laid him out on the ground and a crowd gathered. Instinctively I stretched out my hand, gently laid it on his chest and prayed. As I did, he shuddered and took his last breath. It was a sad moment.

She reports that “the other seven French hens were fine and have been settling in nicely to their new accommodation.”

In a decidedly more sterile environment, Valentine from My So-Called Life in Africa explains how she dissected a frog at school. She knew she was in for a long day in Biology class when her lab partner asked to work on the largest frog of the litter:

Well, we started cutting and you know how some things are suppose to be juicy like a nice steak, and some things just aren’t? Well let me tell you this was extra juicy frog. Maybe that’s a good thing if you are French and like frog legs, but not if you are an 8th grader in biology class. After a few minutes of poking around in the frog’s leg, we found a gross white thread with a few pieces of black stuff clinging to it. I don’t even know what it’s called and don’t want to know because after having met it, I don’t ever want to again!

Finally, a Peace Corps volunteer, AKIA, traveled from Burkina Faso to Taiwan to observe her grandfather’s funeral. In AKIA-BLOG, she describes the funeral rites, which she says are a mixture of Buddhist and Taiwanese traditions:

Since he passed away, my relatives have been going to the temple to pay respects to my grandfather. Each morning, they go to bai4bai4. This involves burning incense and giving thanks or offerings and general respect paying. According to Taiwanese beliefs, he is ascending to the afterlife but he has not taken anything with him. Each morning, after paying our respects by burning incense at his soul altar, we burn paper flowers (the steps for him to reach the afterlife) and sacrificial money (money for the afterlife). Basically, my grandmother's apartment is reminiscent of a paper/origami factory.


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