This is a chapter on Kissi Funerals in the region of Guekedou and Kissidougou. Whilst this is based on fieldwork conducted in 1945-6, many of the ritual practices and meanings were current and observed in Kissi villages in 1991-3.
For the Kissi, every life has three critical moments: birth, initiation, death. The primary role of the funeral ritual is to allow access to the rank of an ancestor; a more elevated social rank. Hence the first hours are given to expressing pain (or gladness for an old man). A dream, a feeling, or the sight of a spitting cobra, or a green banana leaf falling can presage a death (ballo, pl. Ballöla) be it for the person or another. In general, disease is regarded as a punishment; a warning. It always comes after a social fault (even if an unintentional one), but one that the patient must no less confess. When an infection becomes serious, one approaches a soothsayer, thewanayawa who consults an oracle. The answer hardly varies. The patient has committed a fault which he should reveal or his condition will worsen.
This paper was originally published in French – this chapter has been translated by James Fairhead.