Before this trip I prayed for boldness. Boldness to step out of my comfort zone. Boldness to share my faith. So at about 10pm last night when I heard some drumming off in the distance I decided to be bold and find out what was going on. I grabbed my camera and started walking in the direction of the drums.
About a mile away I came to a house surrounded by about 100 Muslim men. They were all just sitting around as the drums and flutes pounded away inside the courtyard. I walked up and began greeting them and asking if anyone spoke English. They pointed me to a man named Peter who I sat down with and chatted.
Peter is the District Executive – kind of like a county commissioner in the US. He was very willing to explain to me what was going on. That morning, one of the “small” chiefs had died (“small” refers to his lower rank and not his physical size). He was in his 60s and had suffered from sickle cell anemia. I bombarded him with questions about all the customs surrounding the death of a chief.
He explained that the drumming in the courtyard continues until the chief was buried. Then they would come outside and drum a different rhythm to let everyone know that the burial was over. “So they are burying him in the courtyard right now?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “Would you like to see?”
We entered the courtyard which was packed with a crowd of dozens more men and women. Peter pushed his way through the crowd and the next thing I knew I was standing at the edge of the grave which was in the process of being dug and the deceased chief was wrapped in cloth beside it. It was a rather surreal experience – the men were shouting instructions about how to dig the hole, the women were wailing and crying, the drums were right next to me pounding my ear drums, and everyone was starring at me – the lone white guy.
Suddenly the drums stopped and everyone instantly got quiet. A man began speaking in Mampruli and when he finished his speech they lifted the body and lowered it into the grave.
After the grave was filled, Peter and I went back outside. The drummers came out and played the last rhythm and then three “muskets” were fired. I put “muskets” in quotes because that is what Peter called them. When I asked to see them (expecting some ancient British rifles from the 1800s) I realized they were just short heavy metal pipes. They had stuffed them full of gunpowder and set them off.
Peter then turned the questions on me. “What are the traditions for funerals in America?” I explained about memorial services, funerals, and cemeteries. He seemed a bit perplexed about cemeteries. “What happens when you run out of land? Do you dig up the old ancestors?” In answering that I mentioned that some people choose to be cremated. He was very shocked that we would burn our friends and relatives to ashes.
It was almost midnight and I asked for the road (the polite West African way of saying “gotta go”) explaining that my wife might be concerned about my absence. Before leaving Peter introduced me to all the other chiefs. One of them asked what was in the long bag I had on my shoulder. I pulled out my tripod and explained that I used it for taking photos at night. Of course the next question was “Will you take our photo?”
The resulting image isn’t the greatest – the one light available was above them and pointed at me. However, I was very happy to capture a moment from this great experience. It serves as a great reminder to me of the urgency of the Gospel. Which one of these Muslim chiefs will die next? Will he too be buried not knowing that eternal life is a free gift received only from Jesus Christ? Am I willing to be bold enough to share that Good News with him? Are you?