Franz Kröger and Barnabas Salifu Nasigri


The Saaring-Ritual


An ethnographic monograph will never be complete. Usually, soon after submitting a typescript to the publisher, recent data drop in and new knowledge is acquired; at the very worst, this will lead to a reinterpretation of the old account. In the past many authors collected the new data for a desired second edition. Today it is possible to publish all additions on the internet as soon as they become available.

This method will also be practised as concerns the new publication First Notes on Koma Culture (2010, see above). Basic knowledge on Koma culture, as it is obtained, for example, from this book, is presupposed in order to completely understand the additions.

In February 2010, Barnabas Salifu Nasigri (Tamale), an assistant during my stays among the Koma, sent me some digital photos taken during a short sojourn in Yikpabongo, his native village, and gave me the corresponding information:

On December 18th, 2009, Kacheri, an old woman from Yizesi (Mamprusi), died in Jaring Tiging, her husband’s compound in Yikpabongo-Barisi-Latadeng. On January 10th, 2010, Salifu observed the ritual called saaring (sweeping), which is performed all over Komaland before a dead woman’s properties are distributed among her heirs. As among the Koma and other societies of Northern Ghana, the number four is associated with ‘female’ and four elder women living in the Yikpabongo clans of Barisi, Bakodeng and Habondeng were the main ritual officiants of the saaring. The function and meaning of such a ritual inter-clan co-operation within Yikpabongo was extensively discussed in the above mentioned publication (pp. 400-405).

The sole male participant in the rituals was Senye, Kacheri’s husband’s brother. His function was restricted to killing the guinea fowl, an action forbidden to Koma women, and helping to carry out some other non-ritual activities. The substantial amount of the ritual performance was incumbent upon the four women.



Fig. 1  The killed guinea fowl


Fig. 2  Senye roasting the guinea fowl


Senye killed the guinea fowl in front of the deceased woman’s bedroom door (Fig. 1). Guinea fowls are favourite gifts to ancestresses or other female spirits. It was extraordinary that the fowl was roasted over an open fire in the inner courtyard without having been plucked before (Fig. 2). In daily life, Koma women cook fowls in a vessel over a three-stone-stove (kuging) in their courtyard, whereas men or children roast plucked fowls outside the compound over an open fire.

The guinea fowl was consumed with millet gruel (saang, which is also called T.Z. in Ghana) after the conclusion of all rituals. Only those whose parents had died were allowed to take part in the meal, and even if a parent of one of the four women had been alive, the food would have been refused to her.

After roasting the guinea fowl, each of the women took a very thin broom (sung) consisting of a bundle of long grasses and swept the dirt and waste of the deceased woman’s bedroom into an old basket (kparing, see Fig. 3 and 4). Then the four women took it and, together with a stirring stick (saawuring) and the brooms, carried it to an intersection of two footpaths (Fig. 5 and 6), one of which led to the parental house of the deceased. The stirring stick, the basket and the brooms were left here to decay. On the following day, Kacheri’s property was distributed among her children and others.



Fig. 3  The four women sweeping rubbish and ashes


Fig. 4   The rubbish is collected in an old basket


In the ethnographic attempt to explore the function and meaning of the described ritual, the information offered by the acting participants and old informants of the village is usually not very helpful. They “explain” the ritual by stating that it was inherited in this form from their ancestors. Ideas of ritual cleansing were probably originally associated with sweeping rubbish (jagima) with a broom, but Salifu has rejected this idea. The disposal of some objects at the footpath leading to the deceased’s parental compound may reflect the local, social and ritual position of married women. Although she belongs to her husband’s family and lives with her children in his village where her funeral also takes place, she is still a member of her father’s clan, which is often in another village.



Fig. 5  Carrying the basket to the footpath


Fig. 6 The basket with contents and

stirring stick on the footpath