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Celebration at a Funeral: Addressing an African Phenomenon

Funerals in Africa: Explorations of a Social Phenomenon, originally published in September 2011, was released this month in paperback form. Below, co-editor Michael Jindra shares the root of his interest in this cultural phenomenon, and discusses the collection and what became its purpose: to shed light on funerary traditions and to inspire other scholars.

One could say the genesis of this book was way back in 1984, when I went to Cameroon as a Peace Corps Volunteer, fresh out of university. I worked with rural credit unions (village banks), and at times when I showed up at a village for a meeting, I would find out the meeting was cancelled because of a “death celebration.”


These weren’t funerals, but events that actually took place years after a death, in commemoration of that person (or group of people). They were big events, with dancing, eating, music and the firing of guns. They were the most important events in the area, and I was curious about them, though what I was told was sketchy. Thus the eventual research on the topic, which led me to its fascinating history.


In the process, I heard about funerary events across the continent, and how important they were. I began to notice many similarities across the continent, and,of course many differences. A book which stretched across much of the continent seemed appropriate. Too big a topic to handle on my own, Joël came on to partner with me, and he turned out to be an ideal choice with his stronger knowledge of francophone areas and experience in several different countries. We gathered together a number of researchers who could contribute strong chapters about particular regions. In the opening two chapters, we tackle the continent-wide histories and trends, the first time we think anybody has attempted to do this.


These events are very important on the continent, and there’s a lot more to cover here across such a vast space, but we hope we’ve hit the major themes, and given a start to many future scholars. And we know many Africans are interested in these events because they are often so involved in them, even if living off of the continent. Africans debate how to do these death celebrations and whether it is wise to spend so much money on them, and we hope this book also informs that more practical debate.


Not only can scholars benefit from this book, but also those in the general public who wonder about them, like I did in 1984.



Michael Jindra is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and a visiting research scholar in the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. He has published in journals such as Africa, Sociology of Religion, Anthropological Forum, and Society and has also contributed chapters to a number of books. His current research focuses on the connection between lifestyle diversity, culture, and inequality in the US.


Joël Noret is Assistant Professor of anthropology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. He has been conducting fieldwork in southern Benin since the beginning of the 2000s. His publications include the co-edited special issue of Gradhiva, Mémoire de l’esclavage au Bénin (with Gaetano Ciarcia, 2008), his monograph, Deuil et funérailles dans le Bénin méridional. Enterrer à tout prix (Brussels, 2010), and Mort et dynamiques sociales au Katanga (with Pierre Petit, Tervuren-Paris, 2011).