“Edibo: a study of the funeral performances of the Effutu of Winneba as drama”

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Edibo, which starts at the moment of a person’s death, is a funeral performance among the Effutu of Winneba in Ghana who inhabits a land area of about thirty square kilometres with an estimated population of about fifty thousand. The Effutu funeral is a series of rituals that comes to an end only after three main phases have taken place. For instance, the preparatory phase comprises a meeting of the family members to decide on how best the funeral could be carried out, the making of an official announcement of the death and the washing of the body of the deceased. This phase is followed by the performance phase which involves mourning including wake-keeping, a series of rituals and burial. The climax and resolution phase is then reached after the burial has taken place. There are limits to which any funeral may be taken. Such limitations may be dictated by birth and social relationships and by the circumstances surrounding the death. The funerals of Kings and people of royal birth are not performed in exactly the same way as those of common people. Nor is accidental death or death by suicide or death through childbirth, or death suspected to be caused by witchcraft, sorcery or poison regarded and celebrated in the same way as death through ‘normal illness’ or old age. The major activities of the funeral performance spring from the Effutu conception of the universe, and in particular from a belief in an after-life. It is believed that there is a world of the dead built on much the same pattern as this world and that when a person dies he goes to his ancestors. Even though a number of written works have been produced on funerals in several societies in Ghana, written accounts on the Edibo of Winneba are virtually non-existent. Until J.H. Nketia’s Funeral Dirges of the Akan People1 which sought to show that a literary approach could be used in analysing the funeral, most of the studies of the funeral in Ghana, were approached from the anthropological point of view. Nketia attempted to identify dramatic situations in Akan funeral performances and isolated their ‘elements’ for analysis. From his analysis, we realise that the funeral has thus, been acknowledged as an art form whose organisation and expression need serious study. We argue in this thesis that dramatic expression, like any other art form, does not communicate in fragments, but in whole. This thesis attempts to show that the funeral performances of the Effutu of Winneba can be described as ‘drama’. Our discussion in this thesis has been conditioned by the fact that some critics have dismissed performances, like the funeral, as mere ritual, having no coherent organisation and therefore having no dramatic value. There is therefore an attempt in this thesis to correct some of the misconceptions of African performances as being acts of disorder and confusion. In the light of what has been discussed above, an attempt will be made to analyse the aspect of Effutu culture which the funeral portrays. The artistic genre through which the culture is projected on the dramatic level would be examined. This thesis will thus be concerned with theoretical formulations concerning the motivation for dramatic manifestation, role distribution and the concept of the performer. These are taken together because concepts of “performer” and “role” are sometimes closely related in some contexts. There is also the problem of structure. What considerations, for example, guide the sequence of events which may be public or private; what aesthetic considerations guide meaning and communication in this drama; and how far are these considerations conditioned by the various physical settings in which they are realised? We argue that drama has the essential quality of enactment with its essence being imitative action; an action that is whole and complete in it; a whole, being that which has a beginning, middle and an end thus, “exciting pity and fear, bringing about the catharsis of such emotions.”2 And with this thesis, we hope to encourage the study of some aspects of our culture, like the funeral, in relation to both literary and theatrical concepts. Thus the import of the introduction to this thesis is to examine the Effutu funeral as an art form, because it offers the community the opportunity to creatively act out their social concerns and values. Chapter one will attempt a definition of drama. The definition would facilitate an understanding of the discussion in this thesis. Chapter two will be an analysis of the events that sustain the funeral. It will be revealed that there is a close dramatic relationship between the various events of the funeral. Chapter three will deal with the organisational structure of the Effutu funeral. It will be observed that the sequence of events in the funeral is organised into ‘phases’, built around distinct dramatic roles that are performed by various classes of functionaries. This Chapter will deal with the ‘preparatory’ stage of the funeral, here referred to as ‘phases one’. Chapter four advances the idea of ‘phases’ within the funeral. The chapter will discuss the performance and resolution stages of the funeral, here referred to as ‘phase two’ and ‘phase three’ respectively. Chapter five will specifically examine the libation and the dirge as dramatic texts. Finally, there will be a summary and a conclusion in which the whole argument is summed up.
A thesis submitted to the Board of Postgraduate Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the award of the Degree of Master of Arts in Comparative Literature, 1997