Mourning the Deceased (Corisco Island? Coastal Equatorial Guinea?) 1840s-1850s

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This record was last updated on 23 May 2017

Image Reference

Drawings of Western Africa (University of Virginia Library, Special Collections, MSS 14357, no. 14).

Ink, colored crayon and watercolor. Labeled “Mourning” by the artist, this detailed scene inside a large rectangular bamboo house shows the corpse, probably a person of high rank, laid out on a mat with a woman (perhaps his widowed head wife as chief mourner) beside him. A fire, perhaps for warding off mosquitoes, burns not far from the corpse. Sixteen mourners, including perhaps his other wives and their children, surround the couple. Sitting with the corpse prior to its burial, not uncommon among West African people. Suspended from the roof rafter and hanging above the fire is what appears to be a rectangular mat (or platform), which seems to be framed with poles. Fish and other food rest on top of the mat. The function of this mat/platform is unclear, although it may have been used for food storage or as a drying rack. Rectangular bamboo houses with a matting or thatch roof were common along the coastal rain forest areas of Western Equatorial Africa, including Corisco Island. Other items of material culture shown in the picture include a large cutlass/saber and rifle/musket hanging from a wall, and, on the floor, a wooden bench or bed platform, an earthenware jar or water pot and a calabash (?) container. Sources: Paul DuChaillu, Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa (New York, 1862), pp. 32-34, 42, 64, 265; Robert Nassau, Fetichism in West Africa (London, 1904), pp. 216-220; John L. Wilson, Western Africa (New York, 1865), pp. 257-259; Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London, 1897). See other image references “UVA” on this site.