Cultures & Traditions

Senufo Funerary Practices

Within the first few days of the death of a Senufo male, his body is interred by members of his profession and family. During the funeral, rhythm pounders [1974.Sc.15] are placed on either side of the corpse, which lies in state on a carved wooden bier or on mats covering the ground. At the appointed time, a member of the occupational group to which the deceased belonged performs a ritual that initiates the deceased into the society of ancestral spirits. At the conclusion of the ritual, rhythm pounders are swung from side to side and occasionally struck against the earth by village elders in order to rouse the spirits of ancestors. Meanwhile, young men follow behind the elders carrying the corpse. At a certain point in the ceremony, the procession stops, and a pair of rhythm pounders is placed on top of the corpse. Afterward, the procession continues to the cemetery located at the edge of the village. After the body is buried, the rhythm pounders are returned to the Poro sacred grove where they remain until their next appearance.

After the burial of a body, Senufo communities celebrate the ceremonial burial. The length of the Senufo funeral celebration corresponds to the relative social importance of the deceased, so for important members of the men’s Poro society, a funeral could last weeks. During this time, masquerades and celebrations are held to honor the dead. Because these events are expensive to stage, frequently a body will have been buried for months or years before a ceremonial “second burial” occurs.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 186.

  • "Standing female figure (rhythm pounder)," DMA Connect, 2012.

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Collections smartphone audio related to Standing female figure (rhythm pounder) from the Cote d’Ivoire, Sikasso district, Senufo peoples; 1974.SC.15 , DMA Collection

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