The life cycle is the sum of all steps a person goes through from the conception and birth to after life.
All living things have a natural or biological life cycle that differs from one species to another.
Among humans, birth, infancy, childhood, youth, maturity, old age and death are often recognized as the main biological steps that a person undergoes in life.
But each Cultural History has its own original way of thinking about life cycle and what to do with all these biological changes.
People transform them into “life histories” from birth to funerals where each step is socially defined and becomes a learning experience.
Passages between them are marked by rituals like circumcision, first menarche or funerals that teach everyone about the meaning of life.
Abisi’s life cycle starts long before he or she is born, with the family’s history who is part of a wider circle that spirals to the very ancestors who founded Abisi.
Abisi’s family history follows a whole development cycle from a polygamous family and grows with children to become a large extended family with all the variations from paternal to fraternal associations.
Unfortunately, apart some general notes, most knowledge about Abisi life cycle is missing: from children’s training and education to parenting and becoming adult.
Pregnancy Theory and Babies
To summarizes some Abisi ideas about reproduction:
“A baby is made when sperm that originates in the men’s brain, flows down to the penis. It gets inside the women by copulation and meets one of the eggs women have in their stomach.New sperm has to be introduced during pregnancy for 6 months when it has to stop.”“One of the eggs separate fromthe bunch and grows into a child with the coming of sperm.”
After birth, a “postpartum sex taboo” postpones sexual relations for one and a half to two years while the mother breast feed the baby.
Weaning occurs after two years, “the mother puts a white powder on her breast and tells the child it is poison she then starts to give it meat and nice things to eat.”
Notes: birth /rlimat/ or fruits, breast /mamam∫I/, breast-feeding /imam∫i/, weaning /atakine/
“When his first child is born , the father gives a chicken to his wife’s father who will send two older Kongo women to bring it to the Mogaji who kills it and sprinkles the blood on his sacred stone . The Kongo cook it and share it with the Mogaji who ask them to bring back one leg to the child’s mother. They also bring water from the Mogaji’s source on the Hill to wash the mother and the child. They also give them some to drink. A small bit of chicken is then put in the mouth of the child.”
Childhood and Youth
Children sleep in their mother’s room.
They move with her when she has to change husbands and where they are raised with other members of the house.
“Before there was no problem with pregnancies, the women would go to her other husband and 2-3 days later she would comeback to give birth and go back with her baby until grown to 6 years old when boys got back to their recognizedfather.”
They stay in a separated boys room until marriage but girls stay with their mother until she moves to a new husband.
At puberty, youth sexual identity is marked by sexual characters’ change like the boy’s voice and body hair and the girl’s menarche and breasts.
They learn new behaviors associated with maleness and femaleness. Ceremonies marking the body sets boundaries between age stages.
Gunn (1956) wrote that Piti and Amo also have the same facial marks: 23 verticals on the temple, 16 horizontal on cheek bones and 12 jaw diagonals. Face mark or/ iwul iurlu/ are done by Amo at age 7 and /mbar/i, circumcision, is done by Rukuba.
Boys went through a ritual of passage marked by genital surgery, mbari or circumcision.
For /mbari/ boys were lured by an invitation to eat meat and taken into a cave where a disguised man would tell them he is a leopard. He would talk to them when they were circumcised.
The operation was seen as necessary for men to be able to copulate.
Around 12 years old, boys become “Ayira” and were trained to develop strong male solidarity as hunters, warriors and farmers as they integrated youth age grade work groups for many years.
Young girls help with their mother’s task, taking care or babies and house chores and gradually participate in small family farm work groups. As young women, they are involved in complex relations with many young men and are instrumental in the Abisi ongoing economic cycle.
Boys participate in Dodo Clubs and also some girls who like to sing funny songs.
At middle age, men are family production unit managers and women manage their own grain store, both are involved in their children’s marriage careers.
As Elders, men become political and ritual participants and women members of Bori organizations.
Final Passage: Death and Dying
Death and Social Status
If everybody is equal and dies, the social status of the deceased is important for the remaining ones.
Abisi distinguish different types of funeral situations: ·
Private funerals for deceased newborns which are simply buried behind their mother’s bedroom ·
Funeral of “Ordinary” people ·
Ceremonial funerals for old men, patriline elders and household heads with many children and grandchildren. ·
Ceremonial funerals of traditional and administrative chiefs and for great hunters or war heroes. These ceremonies takes place regardless of the age of the person. ·
Ceremonial funerals for old women
Ceremonial funerals are large public ceremonies where ararut horns, the /isiet ararut/, are played.
A Happy Event
The ceremonial funerals of seniors are explicitly designed to show
“… others that the dead had many children and was rich of sons and daughters who have multiple husbands and wives and several grandchildren ...”.
In these circumstances it is thought that:
“… death is a happy event, and these people were lucky to live so old.”
During his lifetime, an Elder may ask for a ceremonial funeral if he had many offspring and if all his sons are married.
If he does, he tells his eldest son about his decision by revealing which of his sister’s son, his preferred /umat/, should bring the he-goat’s skin he wishes to be buried into . This umat shall have the responsibility to represent all the family during the mourning ceremony.
Upon discovery of the body, the women of the household weep loudly and spread the bad news of the death.
The first day, members of the patriline, brothers, son, daughters and married sisters gather at the house of the deceased for the /amusa/ .
The amusa is a ceremony when the umat nephew brings a he-goat and slaughters it saying:
“This goat is from your amat, we want to cover you with this skin that you will carry in your grave.“
In this way, he expresses by himself all the sadness of the family so that everybody will be able to rejoice for the good luck of the elder.
He then takes the blood of the sacrificed goat and spread it on the portal of the room as a sign of mourning by his children, his daughter’s children and his uterine nephews.
The flesh of the goat is then divided into two parts given to two gravediggers.
Goat skin, Rain Cape or White Cloth.
The body is then washed by older women of the household and wrapped in the goat skin and covered with a rain cape that will protect the dead man when he will meet Barɜ, the father-rain, the paramount abisi spiritual being.
This traditional practice is now increasingly being replaced by another : the body is tied with three pieces of white cloth, one for the head, one for the trunk and arms and the third for the legs.
To Hide or to Show the Body
The body is then transported to the cemetery by two gravediggers who can be replaced when it is far and get tired.
One holds the shoulder but the other, who holds the feet, must go first.
If the deceased is a chief, the body must be transported low while older men surround them to hide it from the public eyes of the population. The purpose of this action is to ensure that the continuity of the function is not interrupted by the death of one of its owners and preserve the appearances of power.
But, if he is an Elder of an extended household, the body will be transported high on the shoulders for all to see.
The procession is followed by a drummer and weeping older women. The drummer plays all the way a special “song” whose rhythm, “kanggag kanggag kangkag…” tells people, “ this is our old man we are burying…”
Once at the grave, the rhythm changes to “kagkag kagkag kirigag kirigag …” which means “shut all the places that you may have forgotten, shut them all”
For burials, a former grave is open and the body is placed over the remains of the previous ones.
Sections have a minog miden place for burials on the Hill but some patrilines use a unog upↄk, a special hut where their significant people are buried when they do not-have Hill cemetery.
Returning from the burial, women sing various songs, such as“aya aye song”or in the case of a deceased hero:
“What worries you?Come help people carry their burdenGo and eat your spirits. (Talk with your dead) .Come and get us to the limit of Euphorbia. (Cactus edges limiting the hill village limits) .Our best rider died.We are your bush uyirbik “(bush souls).”
If it is the death of an elderly woman, women clap and sing, for example:
“Ko ko koro Liyo …Old, old, come and eat with us again.You eat fast… Put the rest in the big pot.You eat fast, fast, but you do not know how to hoe. “
The Ararut Ceremony
About a month later, a first funeral ceremony called “blow the hand” announces that a grand ararut ceremony will be held in the next dry season, if the death occurred during the rains, or later, if took place during the dry season.
This ceremony brings together members of the deceased and patrilines elders and leaders of the various clans.
Each household involved providing a medium pot of beer, which is placed in two rows in front of the elders sitting under a tree. These beer pots are then mixed into 5 other larger pots and redistributed by sections.
In principle, only seniors drink this beer but a good amount remains for married men and women to drink at the house.
The ceremony lasts about 3 hours. They are led by horn players of special tunes for the ancestors and heroes and by dances of young men from the patriline of the dead.
Many people from other communities are invited. And when Bisi of Janji or Surubu come they get a special pot of beer in mutual reconnaissance of their common language.
The ceremonial funerals of chiefs held in the same manner except that the participants are much more numerous and include everyone in the population who want to attend and even people of other ethnic groups (Ribam and Rukuba) who are officially invited.
For such a ceremony, the costs can be up to 5 large bags of grain . This huge expense is made not only from the patriline of the deceased (brothers, sons, grandchildren) but also extends to the sons of the sisters, uterine nephews all of which have to provide a large amount of beer.
Leaving an heritage, /ugado/, is important for Abisi Elders.
“If you die, it is better to have Guinea Corn in the granary and some goats. If you are rich enough, you can have cows and horses to leave to your sons.” “You are happy to leave them all these.”
First born rule is applied to his sons but his clothes are inherited by amat, sister’s son.
Daughters inherit from their mothers, even married away ones. They get her utensils, clothes jewelry, animals, goats, chicken and pigs. Grain is divided between brothers and sisters. If she has no child, her husband inherits.
Such funeral commemoration can also be very useful when it is necessary to remember a group’s ancestors like when they have to claim rights on some ancestral land he owned.
In Abisi worldview, there is no parallel world with a paradise to desired or a hell to be feared. Bad behavior is not considered sins but the result of witchcraft or land and water spirits.
Death is simply a passage to the level of ancestor ayikirat opened by the ceremonial funerals. Dead persons continue to participate in Abisi society as spirits (ibik) and people can appeal to them in various contexts.