Symbolism and Death: Class-based Ritualised Performance in the Basukuma Burial Ceremonies

Emmanuel Kilatu


Guided by a Marxist perspective on literature, and Muleka’s Performer-centrism, this paper highlights and discusses different manifestations or gestures that covertly suggest   that there are elements of classes in some of the burial ceremonies, which are accompanied by performances among the Basukuma ethnic group of Tanzania. It reports the findings of a study whose data were collected using interviews held with respondents selected via snowball sampling. Note-taking served as a prominent data collection tool. Documentary review supplemented interviews, especially to collect data  on  the  traditions  of the  Basukuma  as one of  the  ethnic  groups  in Tanzania  found  predominantly in the Lake Victoria Zone. The study found that the burial ceremonies of the Basukuma are class conscious as manifested by their symbolic, incantatory, and invocatory performances. Indeed, when chiefs, singers, breech-birth and twins die, their burials require special burial  ritual  performances  such as incantations, invocations  and  symbols  that   differentiate them from  other  rank and file individuals whose burial  ceremonies lack fanfares characterising  privileged individuals. Overall, these  burial  ceremonies  graced  by  symbolic gestures  among  the Basukuma also help  to  unify  the  community  since  individuals define themselves in terms of who they are and  what  to expect  from  them  and  the  community  as  a whole.

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