Desktop version

Home arrow Religion

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

The Mortuary Rituals I

There are no significant differences between the mortuary rituals for men and women or for the old and the young.[1] As soon as a child has a name, the mortuary rituals are performed, with the exception of the last stage, gotr. There are no exact prescriptions for how old a person must have been for gotr to be celebrated, and he or she need not have been ritually married. The decision is left to the sponsors’ judgment.

The “Day of Death”

As soon as someone’s death appears imminent, the women of the house and the neighborhood begin to lament. The dying person[2] [3] [4] is brought into the house and placed in the usual sleeping position, with either his head toward the house deity or his feet toward the door. He lies on a bamboo mat, and his head rests on one of the small wooden benches. His wife sits lamenting at his head, and other women of the house sit around him. In this precarious situation, no efforts are made, as a rule, to ward off death. Bringing the dying to one of the nearby hospitals is out of the question, first, because a means of transport is lacking, and second, because the fear that someone might die outside the village boundaries is greater than the fear of death itself. The possibility of summoning a doctor to the village is also generally not pursued at this stage. In cases in which it seems worthwhile, only a local healer (dissari) is called to perhaps still save the dying person.

Death is considered certain when the individual’s chest no longer rises and falls and no heartbeat can be felt. In a sign of deep mourning, the women throw themselves upon the deceased’s body, while the men of the neighborhood almost immediately begin preparations for the cremation; the “day of death” (morla din) has now begun. News of the death is brought to the tsorubai of the deceased’s local line (kuda) and to his mother’s brother (mamu); both are indispensable for the performance of the rituals.™5 The aim is usually to cremate the corpse immediately; if the day is too far advanced, this is done the next morning. The deceased’s daughters, sisters (if resident in the village), and mother pass the entire night accompanying the deceased with laments, while the men, in contrast, sit quietly around fires in front of the house. It is assumed that the deceased’s duma remains near the house, and people are correspondingly alert.

The preparations then begin early the next morning. An experienced man from among the tsorubai takes the role of the morodandia6 and leads the rituals, often together with the deceased’s mamu. The morodandia cuts the first branch from a tree as firewood, after which many men from the tsorubai’s sai

help to chop wood and stack it at the cremation site.[5] [6] The bier (dandia), which consists of seven crosspieces, is made out of bamboo by the tsorubai, as is a kind of swing (jigri). The swing’s base is a bamboo triangle, to the corners of which siardi cords are fastened and which serves to transport smoldering dung and incense (dup). Inside the house, the women heat water for washing the deceased in a new clay pot and prepare a small amount of cooked rice, which will later be taken to the cremation site, in a small clay pot (kondi).“8 Many of the village inhabitants who participate in the procession to the cremation site bring a piece of white cloth (pochia, dan goronda) and some coins to the deceased’s house; both are later redistributed.

When the deceased’s mamu has arrived and the preparations have been completed, ever more men and women gather in the area around the deceased’s house. As soon as the house door has been taken off its hinges and placed in the middle of the yard, the situation becomes tense. The widow and in some cases other women of the house throw themselves down lamenting on the door and are dragged away by others. Men who are close to the deceased also have to be calmed and restrained by others when the deceased is carried headfirst out of the house by the men of the neighborhood and laid on the door in the yard. The widow or a tsorubai pours the warm water, colored with turmeric (oldi, sangsang*), over the body, together with many others who have brought water with them. While a dozen people try to wash the deceased, the widow throws herself onto her husband’s body over and over. These scenes are often tumultuous, but do not last long, since the washed corpse is quickly brought back into the house.

Inside the house, the deceased is dressed, covered with white cloths (brought previously) and blankets, and rolled up in a bamboo mat, which is then tied shut. His head rests on a small wooden bench, and paper money, which will also be distributed later, is fastened to the cloths around his head. Outside, the morodandia breaks the clay pot in which the washwater was heated and places a potsherd of the right size on the triangular base of the swing (jigri) made earlier. On the potsherd, dried dung is lit, and incense is sprinkled over it.

As soon as the deceased has been carried out of the house a second time and placed on the bier in the center of the yard, the women’s stormy laments begin again.

The procession sets off immediately, as soon as the bearers have shouldered the bier with the corpse. The morodandia leads the way with the incense swing (jigri) and an ax (tengia) from the deceased’s house. Another tsorubai or the mamu carries the small clay pot (kondi) with the rice cooked inside the house, which is considered tsoru. A man of the kutum also goes before the bier and tosses over his shoulder the coins received earlier. Many men (from the kuda, sons- in-law, etc.) carry the bier, and others follow. The women come at the end, their hands clasped behind their heads. How often the bier is set down depends on the relative position of the deceased’s house in relation to the cremation site. Possible stopping places are the border of the sai and the shrine of the village goddess; in all cases, a stop is made at the village’s ritual boundary (bejorna), and the bier is briefly set down. A few moments later, the procession continues and reaches the cremation site, where the pyre has been built.

After a counterclockwise perambulation, the bier is set down, a white cloth is spread over the pyre, and the corpse is laid on it. The tsorubai break up the bier, which will be burned soon afterward, together with the raffia mat. The cloths (dan goronda) and blankets with which the deceased was covered are removed and set aside, except for one cloth covering the corpse. The morodandia rips a piece from this cloth and ties it to the branch of a nearby tree or shrub as a banner (siral). Banners of this kind normally ward off sorcerers’ spells by binding them to themselves. The aim is to prevent sorcerers from subjugating the duma by their magic and setting him on others. This cloth is used again in the fishwater ritual (mach pani) two days later. Before more branches are placed over the deceased and three thicker logs are leaned against each long side of the pyre, the morodandia cuts the deceased’s hip cord (ontador, tunuloi*), which he has worn since his name-giving, and thereby enables an unhindered rebirth of the jibon.

The pyre is then lit. The morodandia and another man (e.g., the mamu or another tsorubai) kindle a bundle of straw at the smoldering incense swing and simultaneously, one at each end, set the wood on fire. They then switch sides, crossing their hands with the burning straw bundles behind their backs. After the wood has caught fire and thick plumes of smoke are already rising, the two men stand, one on each of the pyre’s long sides, and pass the deceased’s ax back and forth over the pyre three times, first touching the ground with the ax each time. When the morodandia receives the ax back the third time, he strikes the clay pot of rice with the blunt side, shattering it into many pieces. He is then the first to place a rice offering (betisong) for the deceased at the foot of the burn?ing pyre. While the others now offer tsoru to the deceased from the broken pot, the morodandia removes the ax head from the handle, reverses it, and replaces it in that position. The ax is now reversed (ulta). With this reversed ax, the morodandia circles the pyre counterclockwise and touches the ground at all four corners, in order to bind the duma to this site. Subsequently, all those present throw a small piece of mango wood into the flames, bid the deceased farewell with the usual juar gesture, and leave the cremation site, first the men, then the women. Dombo and Goudo who are present, who do not enter the cremation site, stand on the path and hand the Gadaba small pieces of wood to throw onto the pyre in their names.

All those who participated in the procession then go to the river to ritually wash their feet, mouths, and hair. The morodandia is the first to head back, and on the path back to the village, he breaks a raw chicken egg and leaves behind a flower as well. Next, all the men assemble at a suitable location near the deceased’s house. The previously given cloth (dan goronda), coins, and in some cases some of the deceased’s clothing are now officially distributed to selected individuals and groups.[7] [8] First, a representative of the local line presents to the deceased’s mamu a plate and a pot of brass, along with a white cloth: this gift of brass items is called gasi moali (or dud moali). Gasi refers to members of a lower caste not to be found in the Gadaba villages, but who possibly resided in the royal capital of Nandapur in the past;i“ dud means “milk.” The word moali is composed from the words for “pot” (mota) and “plate” (tali) and designates this obligatory gift to the mamu. As part of the mortuary process, the mamu

will again receive moali in a later phase, when the same gifts will be called “bone” (har) moali.

After his nephew’s death, the mamu is in a position to make demands. On the day of the cremation, however, he must restrain himself and accept in silence what is given, like everyone else. Alongside the mamu, the tsorubai receive cloth, a small sum of money, and perhaps also a brass pot or plate. After them, the village dignitaries - pujari, randan, naik, barik - and other guests and helpers receive cloth and coins. Each gift is set down before the recipient, who acts entirely uninvolved. After everything has been distributed, a representative of the deceased’s kuda or kutum briefly addresses the circle of men, honors those present, apologizes for the interruption in their work (kam, i. e., their affairs in general), tells them not to be dejected (monduk no koro), and announces the time of the following ritual, called “fishwater” (mach pani, a’dong da’*). The spokesman then clamps a small twig between his teeth, kneels before those present, bows down, and breaks the stick, after which he stands up again, marking the end of this task. The gathering then breaks up, and usually, the tsorubai immediately use the money they have received to buy a pot of millet beer, which they drink together. Before each participant returns to his house, he should bathe.

For the tsorubai and especially for the morodandia, however, the work is only done when the pyre has properly burned down. They go to the cremation site several more times to monitor it and push the half-burned logs together. This task is called baura kat, the “last wood” or “returning the wood.”[9] If in the course of this task it is found that pieces of bone have fallen out of the pyre, special ritual actions may be needed, since this is judged to be a sign of the duma’s anger.

Back at the deceased’s house, in the spot under the eaves (osona), the tsor- ubai cook rice in another sherd from the pot broken after the washing of the corpse. This tsoru, like the tsoru cooked for the duma in the following rituals, is called morasia rice. It is offered to the duma on breadfruit leaves (ponos potro) at the cooking hearth, inside the house (the place of death), at the place where the corpse was washed in front of the house, and on all the paths leading out of the village. For a certain period afterward, not precisely fixed but not much longer than a month, the duma is served food daily, independent of the various feedings that are part of the ritual process. For three days, until the performance of the second mortuary ritual, nothing may be cooked in the deceased’s house; as previously described, women from other local lines bring duk pej.

  • [1] I was able to observe and document the first three phases of the mortuary rituals (morladin, machpani, bur) many times among different groups. I observed gotr, the last phase of therituals, three times: among Dombo, Parenga, and Gadaba. The gotr in the Gadaba village ofPonosguda was the one I was able to document most extensively. I have summarized themortuary rituals in an article (Berger 2001).
  • [2] For the description of the ritual, I have chosen to use the death of a man, but as alreadynoted, the rituals for men and women are identical.
  • [3] If the mother’s brother or other important individuals are absent from the cremation, theduma is said to often show his anger by the fact that the bones burn very slowly and onlyincompletely, especially the breastbone (buk).
  • [4] Moro refers to death, dandia both to the bier and to a staff. During the collective festival inthe month of chait (April), a man takes on the task of ensuring peace in the village. He carries astaff as part of this office and is called dandia.
  • [5] For a funeral in the rainy season, the bank collects a small piece of dry wood (amil kat) forthe pyre from each house in the village before the cremation. He would also do this in the dryseason, the bank said, but I did not observe this. The contribution from every house - as in thecollection of potri chaul for collective sacrifices - underlines the idea that ideally, the wholevillage (gulai ga) should participate.
  • [6] A woman explained to me that if this rice - which she referred to as morasia lai* (seebelow) - boiled over, it would be a sign that the death was caused by harmful magic; if not, jomcaused the death.
  • [7] Upon the death of the senior naik (a Sisa), the distribution took place as follows: after thepurification at the river, all the men in the village sat beneath the tamarind tree, the Sisa’sassembly place. A senior man of the local line (kuda) was responsible for the distribution. First,the mamu (in his absence) received a brass plate, a bangle, and an umbrella (as gasi moali); thenfive groups (matam) - tsorubai and moitr - each received a piece of cloth, in the corner of whichcoins were knotted. A sari was ripped in half and given to two Kirsani groups who had donetheir part as tsorubai, along with thirty rupees each to buy liquor. Finally, the following individuals and groups were honored with pieces of cloth and small sums of money: the barik, aherder, the smith, the moira, the junior naik, the Munduli (the village’s third agnatic group), theaffinal groups (Messing, Mundagoria), the randari’s kutum, and a senior Dombo. Immediatelyafter the distribution, fifty rupees' worth of beer was purchased in the neighborhood by thedeceased's kutum and drunk by the assembly.
  • [8] Ritual activities make reference to the Gasi caste among the Joria as well. In the multi-dayganga puja, the leader of the rituals - a Joria - is called the “chief Gasi” (mul gasi), and he andhis group are considered extremely low-status for several days. As long as the ritual lasts, theydress in rags and behave offensively, singing obscene songs, eating and drinking gluttonously,and trying to “put one over” on the village inhabitants with dubious stories (cf. Volkmann,unpublished).
  • [9] In my notes, I had marked down baura as “last” (adjective). Baura kat is the last action atthe cremation site on this day. Likewise, the last day of chait porbo, the seasonal festival (porbo)in April (chait), is called baura porbo. However, baura appears with the meanings “to call back”and “to return” in Gustafsson (1989) and Mahapatra (1985), and the word is used in this sense inthe name of the handi baurani ritual, the “pot comes back.”
<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics