Traditional African communities felt that it was important tomemorialize the dead in order to show them respect and love. In mostWest African cultures, the dead were not considered completely gone.They believed that the dead existed in the form of ancestors who werecapable of influencing the outcome of major events such as drought,plagues, and death. It is for this reason that African communitieswould memorialize their dead in order to avoid provoking them. Someof the examples of West African communities that would memorializethe dead include the Fon and Bamana of West Africa and the Kongo ofCongo. The African communities built shrines that they used tomemorialize the dead. They would offer animal sacrifices to appeasethe spirits of the dead for they feared provoking them. The Bamanawould also place staffs surmounted by figures and pour libation onthe graves of the dead to show respect.
Many traditional African communities believed that the spirits of thedead would haunt them if they failed to memorialize them. They feltthat if they failed to give them a good sendoff, their spirits wouldkeep wandering around and disturbing the peace. In many of thetraditional African communities, people feared that if they failed tomemorialize their dead they would cause misfortune in their lives.For instance, the Bidjogo of West Africa believed that the spiritsand ghosts of young boys who died before undergoing initiation wouldwander in the villages and haunt the residents forever.
Most of the traditional African communities believed that the spiritsof the young boys were responsible for the numerous misfortunes thatthe community experienced. In order to avert any misfortune to thesociety, the Bidjogo memorialized the dead boys by having girlsundergo the initiation process on their behalf.
The objects used in memorializing could be abstract or naturalisticdepending on the community and the situation. During the death of anadult male, the Bidjogo would use cylinders covered in red cloth tomemorialize him. In contrast, during the death of a boy, they woulduse something abstract- alternate initiation of a girl- tomemorialize him. Other communities such as the Bamana would employ acircle of monoliths to memorialize their dead. These monoliths wereespecially reserved for powerful members of the society. This variousexamples go to lengths to show that each community had its own toolsof memorializing the dead. The objects could be either naturalistic,or abstract.
The objects used to memorialize the dead were used in different waysfrom one community to the next. Whilst others would wear masks torepresent the spirit of the departed, some would pour libation on thegraves of the dead immediately after the burial. Some communitieswould also use the various objects used to memorialize the dead indifferent ways depending on who died. The use of these objects varieddepending on the age, the gender, and the social status of thedeceased. The objects meant a lot of things including respect for thedead, remembrance, and love.
The objects used during the funerals of West African societies weredifferent from those used in Western societies. The use of masks andother symbolic objects is alien to many Western cultures. Some of therituals performed by the West African communities would be labeled asSatanism in the predominantly Christian Western society. The methodsof memorializing the dead also varied between these two communitiesunder comparison.