Retraite de Deuil

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Abam Eba has been all excited last week in anticipation of a retraite de deuil that started on Thursday and finishes this afternoon (Sunday).

What’s is this? It is the end of mourning celebration for someone who has died sometime previously. The celebration is sponsored by the family and it can get pretty elaborate depending upon the importance of the deceased

This one was for a former teacher with two wives and a lot of kids. A traditional dance troupe was hired from Oyem, the provincial capital about an hour away. We heard them as they arrived in the village, beating on one of the large horizontal drums and singing and shaking rattles from the back of a pickup.

They set up near the house of the deceased and the music and singing began Thursday night . . . and well into the early hours of the morning. Friday was a repeat, but everyone was talking about Saturday night when it was going to get “très chaud” (really hot) and they would dance the Elone.

We saw some of the preliminaries on Thursday, but Saturday was indeed the real show. Strolling over around 8pm, two hours after sundown, the dancers and musicians were divided into two groups. Think stage 1 and stage 2 at a US music festival.

The first group we saw had 5 women and one man. The women had raffia skirts, arm and ankles bands. They would dance in formation, then three on three. The man had a pagne (printed cloth) wrapped around him over his shorts and you could see his bare back glistening with sweat. The drummers were playing two horizontal drums-hardwood logs of 30″ and 20″ in diameter and about 4′ long hollowed out to give 1″ thickness (talk about work!!). There were also 2 conga style drums, village-made, that have seen a lot of use. The rattle players had what looked like aluminum foil covered cups. Don’t know how they were made, but they made a big sound.

We watched this group for a while until they took a pause and then went to Stage 2. While they were all part of the same troupe, this group of 6 dancers and many percussionists seemed to be the A team. Similar to the others the women had raffia skirts over their leggings with black bras. The man in this group had the raffia skirt and something of woven suspenders crisscrossing his torso. He also had a decorated cap with several plumes coming our of the top.

They were dancing with shoulder shakes, feet kicks and body movements that defy description. At times they would be three on one side approaching the other three, other times in a circle but always moving. If you were lucky, a dancer would come up to you to invite you in to join the dance. Good dancers would receive CFA (Gabon currency) tucked into their clothing.

All the while, people were walking up and down the road reminding me of folks at a New England town fair, greeting friends and family.

The main event, dance Elone, was supposed to start at 10pm. The hour came and went with the troupe still dancing. Around 11:45, the troupe went to their guesthouse and more music started. Finally the big show.

In a area fenced in with large palm fronds measuring 20 by 20 feet there was a pole with a light and surrounded by a couple of drummers and more rattle players. They were going at a furious pace and singing at the same time. These were locals. More people arrived and started dancing in conga line around the musicians and also singing. Everyone was showing off their moves and if you missed it, you only had to wait a minute before the circle moved and they were back.

When we left about 12:20 it was only starting and the people were primarily young. From what we heard later, there were three concentric lines of all ages which continued to dawn. C’était chaud.

And there will be another 3 day retraite starting Monday night. The photo below is of people on their way to the ceremony. Some are musicians with their drums aboard.

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