22.- 25.9

Challenges of the future - care for the afterlife in Africa and its diaspora

Sabine Klocke-Daffa,  Universität Tübingen, Asien-Orient-Institut, Abt. Ethnologie
Sophia Thubauville, Frobenius-Institut, Universität Frankfurt


25/09/20 9 - 10.30 am Room HZ 12 (Hörsaalzentrum)


Short abstract:

In many African countries and diaspora communities funerals are figuring among the most elaborate and costly social events. This panel wants to discuss the creative way Africans on the continent and in the diaspora deal with the challenges they face due to the high cost of caring for the afterlife.


Among the many challenges African societies are facing, social security is one of the most pressing issues to be addressed. Since most African states have few social benefits to offer, individuals must make own provisions for times of crisis. Rather than relying exclusively on informal ways of support, new possibilities have been sought which allow for maintaining familial obligations and social norms without threatening individual economic achievement. However, some forms of social security have been so successful that they have been adopted in diaspora communities in host countries with very sophisticated social security systems. Caring for the future entails the care for the life of the living as well as for the afterlife of the dead. Funerals are figuring among the most elaborate and costly social events of a family or community consuming large amounts of financial and material resources. Some diaspora communities are also faced with the high costs of repatriation of bodies of the deceased. In order to cover the expenses, new forms of safeguarding have been accessed or creatively been developed. Among them are rotating credit associations, funeral and life insurances, and the negotiation of "death benefits" as part of work contracts. Getting engaged in one of the "caring units" are locals as well as external family members and international diaspora communities.

This panel wants to discuss the creative way Africans on the continent and in the diaspora deal with the challenges they face due to the high cost of caring for the afterlife. We invite papers that focus either on forms of social security, on funerals, and /or care for the afterlife.

Ghanaians revere their dead in a perceived worldview of a strong affinity between the living and the dead. In the past end of life transitions were culturally the duty of the extended family/community, however, in recent times, material culture has subtly taking-over; changing funerals trends drastically and giving way to a more individual/modern or nuclear family responsibility for the after-life. Contemporary funerals in Ghana are competitively commercialized; economics underpins every activity-- from when a person dies to the burial. The changing phase in cost and financing of afterlife celebrations seen in funeral homes/mortuary, posters, announcements, hiring undertakers, decorators, Funeral procession, funeral dinner/special funeral cloths for attendees, paying a bank to collect funeral donations, sales of souvenirs are the core of the paper.

It departs from culture specific ritual and examines the sociology of competitive funeral economy in contemporary Ghana paying attention to the broader cost for caring of the afterlife. It argues that, heavily elaborative funerals are economically driven much as it connects with the culture of giving a befitting burial to the dead in contemporary Ghana. The more “talked about in town” a funeral is, the more social and economic capital organizers amass. spending money on plush funerals seats the bereaved not only high on the social ladder but also gaining from their dead, the more extravagant a funeral is the more people attend and the more money the attendees will give to the bereaved.

The data was collected using ethnography on funeral organization in four towns and villages in Nzemaland. Findings indicates that, expenditure on funerals is significant to people as it means they have given the dead a befitting burial.

Genevieve Nrenzah is Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana

In this paper, I intend to develop a narrative about how Ethiopians (both in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian diasporas) deal with lekso (“funerals”) financially, culturally, politically, and emotionally. Some of the questions the paper explores include: who does what during leksos and why? What are the meanings of participating in leksos? What are some of the mechanisms that people use to shoulder the financial, social, and emotional burdens of lekso? How are practices associated to lekso in Ethiopia different from and similar to lekso practices in the Ethiopian diasporas? How is the home-diaspora nexus shaped by the repatriation of dead bodies from the diasporas to Ethiopia? What are the cultural politics of repatriation? Whose dead bodies can and cannot be repatriated, and why? Using three case studies of lekso in Los Angeles and Seattle, and invoking my own personal experiences with the leksos of my deceased mother and two brothers, I will examine how lekso and its associated practices change over time and across various national/cultural contexts; and contribute to the discourses about challenges of the future-care for the afterlife in Africa and its diaspora.

Workus Nida is Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside

Self-help groups (iddir) have long been indispensable for the financing and organisation of funerals in Ethiopia. For people of Ethiopian origin these groups are fundamental as burials are the most important and lavishly celebrated life-cycle events of a person and should therefore be according to his/her own culture. Besides the high costs for the funeral service, there are often additional costs for the repatriation of bodies of the deceased. Therefore, such self-help groups are also organized in the Ethiopian diaspora even in host countries with very sophisticated social security systems.

In the diaspora, such groups have found new ways and means to support their members during funerals and repatriations. While in Ethiopia such groups are usually organized by neighborhood, in the diaspora they are either much smaller and have a more sophisticated financing system or they have a large amount of members that are organized in virtual space.

The lecture will show the creative way in which the successful model of the Ethiopian self-help group is adapted to the diaspora situation with all its new possibilities and challenges.

Sophia Thubauville is Researcher at the Frobenius Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology, Frankfurt am Main