Our beloved Elder and Teacher transitioned on December 9, 2021. Read more here…
The following is a series of personal narratives from those who escorted and supported Malidoma Patrice Somé on the journey home to his ancestral home and to the ancestral realm.
These stories are not presented in chronological order, we post them as they are shared.
Dear extended global village of people touched and affected by the incredible work of Malidoma Patrice Somé, here is an update of the 3-day funeral ritual that just took place in Dano, Burkina Faso:
It’s 1:48am and I’m exhausted. I returned to Ouaga last night at midnight, happy to have arrived safely from the funeral ritual in Dano, despite having to drive mostly at night which is highly inadvisable.
I want to just give a brief update of what transpired, especially as Robert, Kathryn, Jason and Kat have all stayed in Dano, have little internet connection and probably don’t have time or ability to get much word out.
The funeral ritual was amazing. It was very successful. It was safe, clean, and powerful. Malidoma is now with the Ancestors. It is anticipated that he will be Ancestralized in 30 days.
For now, I just want to give you the bare bones:
I picked Robert and Kathryn up at the airport Friday night and we were immediately whisked to a family member’s house for a wake where Malidoma’s body was brought. The casket was open. Malidoma looked serene, peaceful, at rest, almost smiling… he looked a lot like Papa Elie. The wailing of the women was constant and harrowing. The sense of grief was overwhelming.
The next day about 20 vehicles traveled in a caravan to Dano, a 4-hour ride that took 8 hours. It was cool though in Ouaga that police stopped traffic for us and even allowed us to drive on the side of oncoming traffic to keep the caravan whole– at least cops here are good for something. Upon arriving in Dano at midnight, the wailing of more than 100 women began and didn’t stop for 3 days.
The body was brought into the Zangala, then in front of the family compound. We stayed there until almost 4 am. We all barely got any sleep during the 3 days. Three hours one night, four the next, but we were energized in ritual space, and fueled by the immense gratitude bestowed upon us – for being there, and for bringing the body back to them to make this all possible. Even though we kept saying it was all Robert, the village DreamKeeper ( without whom the East Coast Village would never have been possible) who did all the work, they gave the collective group of the five us all the credit, and it was a truly humbling show of honor and respect that continued throughout the funeral.
I have a brief audio recording of the wailing, a sound I will never forget. As uncomfortable as I felt recording all this, we were encouraged throughout to film and record to share with others who couldn’t be there.
The next morning the casket was brought into the field behind the compound where the two big baobabs are. It was put under a paillotte (hut) and was decorated beautifully. There was a big wreath, a bow and arrow, a guitar, shoes, a suitcase, other things of import from Malidoma’s life. There were two big photos, one of which was almost life size of Malidoma when he was very young, looking fresh, undeterred, unburdened, untarnished and ready for the task before him.
There is a walking ritual that is performed when you arrive. You walk up to the paillotte where the casket is, men on the left side, women on the right, and you walk across 3 times and then throw a coin, not just any coin, but a 10 cfa coin, one that is so small it is not even used commercially anymore, but it’s often used in rituals as a symbolic form of payment. It’s also small enough that no one is tempted to go pick up the coins that are being thrown in honor of the deceased! It was interesting to see some very old coins mixed with shiny new ones. These days one has to go to the bank to get these coins which are doled out just for such purposes, however there are still some in circulation.
The small 10 cfa coins were often put into Fati’s hands (Malidoma’s widow), as well as the hands of Malidoma’s family members. It was very moving when Fati took some of those coins and put them in our hands – the 5 white people who had come from afar to bring the body to them. It was a profound honoring of us, and after that, many others did the same.
The funeral ritual had nonstop music and singing, Two ballafons and a calabash, and a chorus of male singers. There is also dancing throughout that would come in spurts, as in when Spirit takes you, and ends just as abruptly.
We all barely got any sleep during the 3 days. 3 hours one night, 4 the next, but we were energized in ritual space, and fueled by the immense gratitude bestowed upon us, for being there, and for bringing the body back to them to make this all possible. Even though we kept saying it was all Roberty Bobert, the village DreamKeeper (Ina’s monikers for Robert Walker, without whom the East Coast Village would never have been possible) who did all the work, they gave the collective group of the five of us all the credit, and it was a truly humbling show of honor and respect that continued throughout the funeral.
Many times we witnessed Fati, Malidoma’s widow, who is beautiful, strong, the tallest woman in the village, and who for 3 days was the epitome of grace and grief, go running toward the paillotte, only to be grabbed by her friends and brought back to the community.
The small 10 cfa coins were often put into Fati’s hands, as well as the hands of Malidoma’s family members. It was very moving when Fati took some of those coins and put them in our hands – the five white people who had come from afar to bring the body to them. It was a profound honoring of us, and after that, many others did the same. These are the same coins that are thrown toward Malidoma when people approach the casket lodged within the paillotte. At one point, pieces of straw (kind of like natural twine) were tied to our wrist to “keep us tethered to the earth” so that our grief would not overwhelm us… these were removed by an elder at the end of the funeral.
At the end of the funeral, people came up to the paillotte and drank beer, smoked cigars and drank chappello (local millet beer also known as pita, dolo and other terms) in honor of our dearly loved brother.
A neighboring village came and did a very beautiful and percussive dance, with two drummers and a ballafon in the middle of a circle; the dancers wore colorful robes and rattles on their ankles and had bells in their hands. I took some great video of this- when you see it, it will be like you’re all there.
Toward the end of the 2nd day (sorry for going out of chronological order here) the casket was brought to Malidoma’s house in central Dano where the tomb was dug under his gazebo.
The tomb was beautiful, incredibly deep and lined with tiles. I have never seen anything like it. There was an awkward and rather hilarious moment when they were trying to lower the casket into the tomb. Several people were underneath the casket in the tomb itself when they realized they had to move out of the way to get the casket in. 100 people watching the action immediately started shouting their opinion of what to do and the usual chaos and pandemonium ensued. We could all feel Malidoma cracking up. They ended up getting ropes and did a fine job.
Robert then spoke eloquently in the only eulogy given, spoken in 3 languages- English, French and Dagara. This is also filmed, but I was filming through tears at this point.
Overall it was a very rich, rewarding and powerful experience, even though it was immensely sad and devastating, and full of things we didn’t understand (and the one who we normally ask our questions was no longer there). There are just no words to describe the sadness and depth of this irreplaceable loss, and the cavernous void he is leaving in his wake, yet together in community with over a thousand villagers, friends and family members we sat vigil for 3 days and nights, holding together the container of grief, love and gratitude for the life and works of our beloved brother, Malidoma Patrice Somé.
May his soul rest in peace, and may his work continue to take root in the hearts of all those who need the indigenous African spiritual technology and medicine of the Dagara. Thank you Elder Malidoma for all you’ve done for so many, for your great work, your gros travail, c’est ne pas petit mon frère, we will carry your legacy forward. Barka! Ashé.