On Saturday the 2 April three of our London team members (myself, Miriam Weidl and Rachel Watson) had the honour of assisting a very special occasion – special both for personal reasons as well as concerning our project related activities. That event was the anniversary of Edouard Bacote Sagna’s funeral (messe anniversaire in French, ëriibeŋ in Gubëeher and bucigo in Joola Banjaland Kujireray). Edouard Sagna, who had very suddenly passed away in April 2015, is grieved by his many children and all of Djibonker and beyond, where he was engaged in numerous political, economic and social activities beneficial for the whole village.
He was also the first point of contact for me in 2009 when I first came to Djibonker to do research for my doctoral dissertation, and has not only welcomed me into his house and family but also assisted and supported me in his research as he has opened doors and worked miracles for all previous and current team members who have since come to research and spend part of their lives in Casamance. Edouard was deeply interested in the local culture and languages and the research projects and has participated in many of our research related activities by organising and coordinating events and being founder and part of a dictionary committee for Baïnounk Gubëeher.
His great personality and his wide popularity was reflected by the enormous numbers of family members and guests who came from all parts of Casamance and Senegal to remember him. Funny and serious episodes were reminisced and recounted in all languages of Casamance such as Bayot, Portuguese Creole, French, Wolof, and all the Joola languages between Diembereng and Diouloulou. This showed us once again how deeply the communities living in Casamance are intertwined through family ties and social bonds. On Saturday the main day of the ceremony the closer (!) circle of about 50 members of the family and friends who had stayed at the family house in Djibonker preparing the festivities, was joined by hundreds of guests pouring in by the busloads in their Sunday’s best. After having attended a church service dedicated to Edouard Sagna and a visit of his grave, the crowd moved to the house where an army of cooks prepared delicious food for everyone, and palm wine and other drinks were served throughout the day, while people sat and chatted.
As a contribution to Edouard’s memory from the part of the Crossroads project Mia and Alex chose images and video-footage and cut it into a half hour memorial film, bringing Edouard Sagna briefly back to life projected onto a white bedsheet attached to the side wall of the house he built and in which he used to live. Once more he was joking, dancing and pouring out words of wisdom in a manner deeply familiar to everyone who knew him, making them laugh and cry at the same time. But now it was time to let go of him as the anniversary of his funeral marks the end of the grieving period, – to join the ancestors in the world beyond or to proceed to some form of Christian afterlife depending on what one prefers to believe. The personal belongings of the deceased are distributed among the family and his room becomes available again for occupation. He will be fondly remembered by his family and his friends (and most certainly remembered by those foolish enough to make themselves his enemies). They have contributed all their workforce and resources to give their father, uncle, friend a dignified farewell he couldn’t have been more proud of.
Text and photos by Alexander Cobbinah