What does fascination for death mean?

Death in other cultures - West Africa

Death is an issue in our society that is characterized by sadness and silence. We wear black, weep, we suffer and we don't speak many words in these difficult times.

Many cultures and countries deal with death differently. Today it should be about West Africa, because in this culture death is celebrated as well as life. With us, death is often still a taboo subject - we know that death is omnipresent and that each of us has to die one day - and yet we don't like to talk about it and do not really care about this part of life.

Color, music, food & dance

Quite different in West Africa: Here death is accompanied by bright colors, song, food, music and dance. On the streets there are obituaries in the form of huge posters that are more reminiscent of an advertising poster than an obituary.

Celebrations of the death are cheerful and joyful, and often extend over several days. Everyone from the village or town comes to the celebration, accompanies them and makes their contribution. It can quickly happen that over 100 guests take part.

Ritual mourning

But here, too, the death of a person means first and foremost grief. However, it is mainly ritual mourning and tears. The deceased person is celebrated and honored, so the mood is cheerful.

Death means rebirth

Death is viewed differently in Africa than it is here. Regardless of religion, most Africans (and especially voodoo followers) are convinced that the person does not actually die, only that their body no longer lives on. They believe in reincarnation, in rebirth.

The person's spirit is omnipresent in their eyes. Whether in the form of wind between the trees or as water in the river: The deceased are not really dead, but are reborn in a different form. Therefore, the grief is not as great as it is with us. Because the loved one lives on and is still there.

For this reason, fingernails or hair of the deceased are often buried ritually, since in the eyes of Africans these are parts of the body that continue to grow after death.

The fear of evil spirits

If someone dies there, it is not because they have had an illness or other ailment - death is interpreted here as an evil spirit. Most West Africans do not believe in natural death. It is the evil spirits that infest the person and cause them to die. Accordingly, there is a great fear of evil spirits and witches in this culture and death is not rationally explained by this interpretation.

But this view also has its good points: when the loved one is dead, their spirit can take revenge on their "murderer", the evil spirit. In this way, retribution for death is immediately exercised and the dead spirit is happy again in its life after death.

Avoidable Deaths

Unfortunately, the downside of this view is the non-existent belief in disease. Terminally ill people are often brought to the hospital much too late, since the evil spirits are to blame for the fact that they are feeling badly. Many Africans do not believe that a normal doctor can cure the sick, only a Voodoo magician / healer can.

Course of a memorial service in West Africa

A “typical” memorial service in West Africa often begins on Thursday evening. Most funeral services are held over the weekend, as this allows more guests to attend the ceremony. Unlike ours, there can be several weeks between death and the funeral service, because the deceased first receives their funeral service at home and there they often first have to be transported. The funeral service must begin at home, otherwise the spirit of the deceased would not be able to go home the next day after the funeral.


A close relative usually holds a wake on Thursday until the celebration begins the next day, when the deceased is laid out in an open coffin adorned with brightly colored cloths. All relatives, family and friends as well as acquaintances come to the coffin to say goodbye to the deceased.

Funeral procession

Then the blessing is given by a priest or a voodoo priest and there is a funeral procession to the cemetery. In this case, the coffin with the dead is carried ahead by the relatives and everyone else follows it. The ceremony and the funeral procession are accompanied by a lot of music and singing.

In West Africa there is no cremation of the dead, that would not correspond to the tradition that the dead or their spirit still needs a “home”. In addition, there should be a place for the relatives where they can gather again and again to talk to the deceased.


After the guests have removed the colorful cloths from the coffin, it is left in the grave. The friends and acquaintances of the deceased then dig up the grave because the close relatives are to be relieved on that day.

Food, music & dance

After the funeral, the funeral does not end. Food, singing and dancing are now on the agenda. The neighbors from the village help with the preparation and preparation of the food. The dead person is celebrated and honored. This post-funeral celebration can extend over two days.

Clothes and memories

Black and white are usually worn at the funeral services. Sometimes relatives also wear shirts with a photo of the deceased to commemorate them.

After the funeral there is often an album with many photos of the deceased.

Less and less space in the cemeteries

For Africans it is inconceivable that the grave of the deceased will one day be dissolved, as is the case with us. The spirit needs its own resting place forever and accordingly all those buried remain in their grave forever. It is also unusual for families to be reunited in family graves. This creates an ever greater problem: In many cemeteries there is a lack of space due to the many burials and graves.

Death is dear

A funeral in West Africa, like ours, is associated with high costs. The coffin, the ceremony, the priest, the food, the obituaries on the posters, the music, the funeral robe - all of this means high costs. A funeral therefore quickly costs around 700 francs and has no upper limit. Many families cannot afford such an expensive celebration and go into debt in order to be able to organize the funeral service.

The families start paying into the “death fund” very early and say to themselves, “I would rather have money for the funeral than for food”. This is a serious problem, because with the many deaths in Africa from chronic, untreated diseases, there are correspondingly many funerals.

But an appropriate funeral or memorial service is essential. The dead spirit could take revenge on them if the deceased is not given a proper celebration. Nobody wants to take this risk.

Death is omnipresent

In contrast to our culture, death is closely linked to life in West Africa. It is saved early for the funeral service, the voodoo followers even live for death: In their eyes it is the highest meaning of life to one day rise to the creator god. Therefore, they are concerned with death every day, because they believe that their spirit lives on after physical death.

Dealing with death and constantly dealing with it can have positive effects: an inner balance and a kind of consolation arise. You make your peace with yourself because you know and accept that life is finite. Belief in rebirth gives hope and ensures that the fear of death diminishes.

That is why death is not kept secret or viewed as a big, unknown, frightening and abstract topic. The mourners celebrate the death of their loved one and know that they will always be around after the funeral service.

Death determines life

As beautiful and open as dealing with death from this point of view may be, one must not forget that it also determines the lives of West Africans. It causes high debts for many families and is also doomed by the bizarre interpretation of the evil spirits in our eyes: many deaths would be avoidable if a sick person received appropriate treatment in good time. In this case, tradition and conventional medicine are often still in the way.