Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ritual fires, a social and symbolic act among the Bwaba of Burkina Faso and the Bassar of Togo

03.07.2007
African societies, including those of the Bwaba of Burkina Faso and the Bassar of northern Togo, consider certain natural sites located on their territory as sacred. With each of these places these communities associate supernatural beings, kinds of spirits, that they have to come to terms with.

Maintenance of relations with these spirits requires strict preservation of the sites that they occupy. This is the case notably for the sacred groves, where wood cutting and all forms of removal of materials or organisms are strictly forbidden.

IRD ethnologist Stephan Dugast (1) describes other sites, which benefit from the same status of sacred natural sites and which once per year are the scene for ritual bush fires. The belief system of the groups studied reserves an important symbolic place for these ritual fire areas on a level comparable with that of sacred groves. The rules and restrictions applied to them are similar. Thus, the ritual fire areas are at all other times rigorously protected from all forms of fire. In the event of an accidental fire, the person responsible for such negligence will succumb to the wrath of the offended spirits, while the ceremonial burning will be cancelled for that year, depriving the village of the purifying benefits the operation is expected to bring. Paradoxically, the punishment for allowing accidental fire in sacred woodland is less severe, as the offender can avoid death for the price of sacrificing a bullock.

The fire must only be set off on the date fixed by the ceremonial calendar established by the person responsible for the site -and in the very strict framework that defines among other things the sacrifices to be performed in parallel. Moreover, the operation must be presided over by the site’s rituals overseer in person. This ceremony is the occasion for a mobilization of the whole group. It brings them around the fire for collective hunting, but also to the edges of the sacred forest groves to clear strips for fire breaks in the days leading up to the ritual fire.

In spite of their close symbolic significance, the ritual fire areas and the sacred groves are associated with highly distinct types of environment. The sacred groves have, since their origin, always consisted of dense stands of trees with thick understorey devoid of herbaceous groundcover. The ritual fire sites are demarcated on vast expanses of herbaceous vegetation with almost no trees. The ritual treatment is appropriate for the natural substrate of each site. In this way, the use of fire or protection against fire contributes to maintenance of these sites in an exemplary “natural” state, where the initial characteristics are reinforced. The ecological effects of fire are more favourable for herbaceous plants than for trees, hence the features of the whole system tend to homogenize the herbaceous cover and to thin out the tree cover in the ritual fire sites.

In the ritual fire ceremonies, it is fire’s purifying action that is sought. In this way, the Bwaba consider that fire chases away or destroys evil spirits that haunt the edges of the village and, indirectly, even the interior of the village. The flames destroy the grasses and herbaceous growth, cleaning the place in the process. Once the fire has ceased to advance on the ritual area, it is assumed to continue invisibly inside the village where its purifying action persists: the fire’s passage through the alleys and yards destroys all the harmful elements which could be present within the boundary of the inhabited area.

This purifying action is prolonged by the active participation of the members of the village, on the occasion of the collective beat that invariably accompanies any ritual fire ceremony. Among the animals killed by the hunters, some are taken to be in reality incarnations of intruding sorcerers from outside villages come with the intention of doing harm. More generally, all the animals called upon to perish that day, in the flames of the fire or during the hunt, are considered as “bad animals”, as opposed to the “good animals” which succeed in escaping, most often finding refuge in the neighbouring scrubland and in the sacred groves. It is in there that a link is found between the two types of natural sacred site. The escaped animals gain the status of good omens, from the sole fact that they have survived. They are believed to bring good fortune to the village for the whole of the coming year, from that day to the moment of the next ritual fire.

The ritual fires, which create a association between the action of the fire and the mobilization of the community, occupy a space where social and symbolic dimensions meet. The lighting of the fire by the ceremonial master in the ritual area, breaking one year of strict preservation, constitutes an inversion rite. This act of transgression, immediately repeated by all the participants, arouses a real feeling of liberation and appeasement. It is in this way that the sudden removal of a prohibition which concerns all members of the community intervenes to reinforce social cohesion.

Olivier Blot– IRD
Translation : Nicholas Flay
(1)Stephan Dugast is head of the project « Sites sacrés » of IRD research unit UR 169 « Patrimoines naturels, territoires et identités » (PATIS).

Site: www.ur169.ird.fr

Marie Guillaume | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ird.fr/fr/actualites/fiches/2007/fas266.pdf

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht New measure for the wellbeing of populations could replace Human Development Index
07.11.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Because not only arguments count
30.10.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Mathematik in den Naturwissenschaften (MPIMIS)

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

Im Focus: Elucidating the Atomic Mechanism of Superlubricity

The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.

One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...

Im Focus: Mission completed – EU partners successfully test new technologies for space robots in Morocco

Just in time for Christmas, a Mars-analogue mission in Morocco, coordinated by the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) as part of the SRC project FACILITATORS, has been successfully completed. SRC, the Strategic Research Cluster on Space Robotics Technologies, is a program of the European Union to support research and development in space technologies. From mid-November to mid-December 2018, a team of more than 30 scientists from 11 countries tested technologies for future exploration of Mars and Moon in the desert of the Maghreb state.

Close to the border with Algeria, the Erfoud region in Morocco – known to tourists for its impressive sand dunes – offered ideal conditions for the four-week...

Im Focus: Programming light on a chip

Research opens doors in photonic quantum information processing, optical signal processing and microwave photonics

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a new integrated photonics platform that can...

Im Focus: Physicists uncover new competing state of matter in superconducting material

A team of experimentalists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and theoreticians at University of Alabama Birmingham discovered a remarkably long-lived new state of matter in an iron pnictide superconductor, which reveals a laser-induced formation of collective behaviors that compete with superconductivity.

"Superconductivity is a strange state of matter, in which the pairing of electrons makes them move faster," said Jigang Wang, Ames Laboratory physicist and...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientists coax proteins to form synthetic structures with method that mimics nature

15.01.2019 | Life Sciences

Next generation photonic memory devices are light-written, ultrafast and energy efficient

15.01.2019 | Information Technology

Viennese scientists develop promising new type of polymers

15.01.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>