Funeral for Paramount Chief Video Selections

Video Selections:

Day 1
Around midnight of the previous night, the electricity for the entire town of Anomabu was briefly turned off to insure complete darkness as the Paramount Chief’s body was returned to town (it had been preserved at a morgue in Accra for the previous few months while arrangements for the funeral were being made) and placed on an ornately decorated bed in a second floor room of the palace. This video clip opens with a panoramic shot of the palace where, on this first day of the four-day-long series of events for the funeral, the Anomabu Traditional Area chiefs under the suzerainty of the paramount chief have gathered to ceremoniously inform the ancestors and local spirits of the chief’s death and to request their support in the days to come. Although enacted out in the open, this is not a public affair. The residents of Anomabu have not officially been informed of the death of their chief, although they of course all know of it since he died months earlier.
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We see first the court linguist presenting libations at the base of a tree to the chief’s ancestors by pouring gin on the ceremonial stools that had been used by his precursors. The group then moves to a shrine at the front of the palace where further libations are presented to local obosom. Utterances by the linguist are affirmed by those present and the court aben player blasts an occasional text in support of the actions.
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A cow is sacrificed to the ancestors, who are symbolically fed by the blood that hits the ground. Later, the cow is butchered for its meat (not shown).
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Still later in the morning, Reginald Mensah drums appropriate texts on the royal atumpan, which face the entrance of the palace wherein the chief’s body lays in state.
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Local chiefs rest in the palace courtyard between the low-key events of the first day. (The recorded music heard during segments of this video clip is coming from the outdoor speakers of a nearby bar–it has nothing to do with the funeral activities.)

Day 2
The second day of the funeral ceremony is the day on which the local chiefs proclaim to the citizens of Anomabu that their paramount chief has died by making a solemn procession through the streets wearing red and black, the colors Fante associate with death. From this point on, the stages of the ceremony involve ever increasing segments of the community.

Day two begins with the royal fontomfrom ensemble being played at the palace as the chiefs of the Anomabu Traditional Area arrive. The fontomfrom drums and the musicians are set up facing the front wall of the palace, right below the second floor window of the room in which the body of the chief rests. Much progress has been made by this time in preparing the palace courtyard for the events of the third and fourth days.
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The local chiefs arrive at the palace after having a planning meeting in a house across the street.
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After passing in front of the still playing fontomfrom ensemble, the chiefs circle the palace courtyard before taking their seats.
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The drummer from one of the town’s asafo companies calls the chiefs to order to begin the procession.
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Having reformed their line, the chief’s begin their procession through the town to the occasional bursts of text on the asafokyen and the aben.
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The procession continues through the streets of Anomabu.
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After returning to the palace, the chiefs enter the building in order to view the corpse for the first time and pay their respects.
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It is considered dangerous for a living chief to see a dead one, so a special ceremony is performed just before the chiefs leave the palace. By walking through the blood of a sacrificed animal, the chiefs will be protected against suffering the same misfortune that has befallen their paramount chief. Before the sheep is sacrificed, libations are poured to the ancestors petitioning their protection. The fontomfrom ensemble begins to play again as the chiefs exit the palace.

Day 3
The third day is when the major community organizations–the asafo companies and the akom priestesses–are drawn into the ceremony. The asafo companies each gather at their respective posts and march through the streets toward the palace with their asafokyen leading the way and their members singing.

The clip begins with Asafo Co. No. 6 in the streets. Then Co. No. 3 passes by them.
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Several akomfo in their white cloths approach the palace from another direction, with yet another asafo company following them. This company, No. 5, uses a mirliton (kazoo) instead of an asafokyen.
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Meanwhile, at the palace grounds, the royal fontomfrom ensemble is playing in anticipation of the arrival of the participating organizations. Notice that the drums are now facing the courtyard instead of the building, and that, unlike the previous two days, there are many observers present. While the asafo companies are organizing themselves beneath a canopy, the akomfo arrive.
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One by one, each asafo company salutes the assembled chiefs and invited guests seated around the periphery of the courtyard with their asafokyen and the presentation of one of their flags. Here we see the asafokyen player and the frankakitsanyi of Co. No. 6 introducing their company to the chiefs.
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Throughout the afternoon the various asafo organizations contribute music to enliven the event. As they play and sing (Co. No. 6 is shown here), mourners can be seen walking by on their way to pay their last respects to the deceased chief while others are moved to express themselves through dance.
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A company frankakitsanyi joins the dancers. The group of women in red and black that dances their way through the courtyard are members of the chief’s abusua (matriclan). What you are seeing and hearing in the footage is not, so far as I can tell, thought of as entertainment by the Fante. Rather, it is viewed as a desirable state of sound that invites participants to explore their feelings of loss through dance.

Day 4
In the palace courtyard, we see the key representatives of the local chiefs and the paramount chief’s abusua leaving the palace to the accompaniment of the atumpan drums and aben.
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With the fontomfrom ensemble now being played, we see the local chiefs and their regalia (e.g., linguist staffs with sculptural representations of proverbs) seated underneath a tent.
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A royal aben player.
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Meanwhile, the entourages of paramount chiefs from around the Central Region are organizing on the edge of town in preparation for their grand procession to the palace grounds. The regalia of chieftancy include ivory aben (sometimes with a bell-like extension made from the jawbones of enemies killed in long-ago battles), sculptured finials on linguists’ staffs, small executioner drums (executions are no longer carried out, but most courts will still have a person in this ceremonial role), large and colorful umbrellas, thrones, and a royal music ensemble.

Our first view of the procession shows a royal aben player at the tail end of one chief’s entourage, followed by another entourage the aben player of which uses a horn with human jawbones. This chief’s entourage concludes with a mmensoun group playing ivory horns. The next ensemble to come into view is a royal kete group with four drums and a bell. Kete drums are typically wrapped or painted in a black and red (funeral colors) checkerboard pattern. The next entourage includes an executioner’s drum (not played while in view). While the procession is momentarily stalled, another entourage with a kete ensemble passes on the street side. A moment later a fontomfrom ensemble comes into view. An executioner’s drum (this time played) and aben with human mandibles are part of the entourage to follow. Next there is a close-up of three men carrying their chief’s floor mat, throne, and footstool. The following group begins with the same trio of regalia and ends with an impressive fontomfrom set with two large from.
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The final few groups are then seen, ending with another kete group that includes dancers.
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By this time, the first chiefs in the procession have arrived at the palace where they will soon be joined by the rest, the procession circumambulating the courtyard before settling into the reserved places beneath the canopies surrounding the courtyard. The final video segment captures a sense of the general cacophony at the palace.

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