Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blood on the threshhold and on the butcher's shoes

I toughed my way through my father in law's funeral services in Accra, Ghana, with a wicked traveler's cold that sent me scurrying out of the compound, from time to time, to clear my sinuses.

Returning from one of these errands, I was surprised to see my wife's oldest living brother Eric Akwei come around the corner coming out of the compound, carrying a goat with another man. The other man was wielding a knife.

They proceeded to stretch out the goat on the threshhold leading out of the compound. The man hired to videotape the Homegoing and I were in place as they slit the goat's throat and poured a pool of its crimson blood on the threshhold.

I have heard of a chicken with it's head cut off, but never a goat with its throat slit. Much like the proverbial chicken, the goat wrenched away and made it a few steps around the corner of the wall before the men tracked it and seized it, leaving its bright red blood on the threshhold - precisely where the body of my father in law, Kpakpo Mensah, momentarily would be carried out of his mother's home and toward the grave awaiting him at the military cemetery.

The man helping Eric with the goat was a local butcher, who had an occasional weekend sideline gig in ritual slaughter for the traditional aspects of ceremonies like this.

The more traditional Mina family members who had traveled to Accra from the ancestral village back in Togo had explained to the city people that blood of goat on the threshhold would ease the passage of the body and spirit of the dead man, out of the house of the living and into the land of the spirits.

But the meat of the goat would not be wasted. The butcher would carve it up and the family would save it for a ceremonial soup that had its own important place later in the four-day Homegoing observance.

The significance of the goat blood and goat soup would be explained to me later. As this bloody ritual unfolded before me, I only reacted to the spectacle and tried to capture the story in pictures. My wife had asked me to bring our camera and shoot the services, so I was essentially being a role player in the extended family, performing an assigned duty.

But I knew enough about the circles of the spirit in traditional African religion to get a pretty good hunch about what was going on here. Fresh blood on the threshhold. Passages of the body and the spirit. The reliance of the human being on the flesh and blood of animals.

These highminded and abstracted thoughts jarred against the homely image of the local butcher cleaning his knife in a bucket and washing the goat blood off his feet and flipflops. The blood on the threshhold might portend passages of the spirit, but the blood left on the butcher's plastic shoes was just a mess.

* Pictures are by me. Click them and they get bigger. *

More in this series

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