Baggara - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Baggara are Muslims, and they observe the Five Pillars of Islam: the declaration of faith, the five daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Many Baggara men, and some women, manage to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Since the mid-1980s, men have used the pilgrimage to Mecca as an opportunity to seek wage labor, often staying a year or two beyond the pilgrimage to work before returning home.

Ceremonies. In conjunction with or in addition to religious celebrations, Baggara celebrate life-stage transitions. Marriage and the various stages toward it are the occasions for important celebrations for both men and women. The various marriage celebrations (betrothal, marriage, moving residence) all include feasting and dancing, which provide courting opportunities for young people. Circumcision is important for both boys and girls. Giving birth is also cause for celebration. Many occasions are found for communal feasting, such as unexpected good fortune, the arrival of a visitor, the return of someone from a trip, or the condolence visitations after a death.

Arts. Baggara decorative arts are integral with the making of various practical items. Some of the mats they make, for example, may be plain, but others are quite colorful, with geometric designs woven into the fabric. Leather bags may have decorative stitching, and many containers, whether of basketry or gourds, have long leather fringe as decoration. Older Baggara women have decorative facial scarification, whereas younger women sometimes have tattoos, particularly on their lips. Women's hair braiding can also be most elaborate. Baggara are traditionally known for their poetry and songs, which are composed by both men and women to celebrate or narrate events. Baggara men participate in wrestling matches and often spend a great deal of time decorating their costumes and their bodies for the events.

Medicine. Today Baggara people seek medical care in a variety of settings, including clinics run by nurse practitioners, doctors' clinics, and hospitals. Because many of them frequently live long distances from such clinics, traditional medicine is also still important. Some men are well known as bonesetters; older women serve as midwives. A few Baggara women have been trained in Traditional Birth Attendant programs so that they can incorporate modern techniques into their midwifery practices. The use of modern medicine is also important to Baggara animal husbandry. Men often seek the services of government veterinarians, or they may purchase and administer various veterinary medications themselves. These practices are important in the prevention of animal diseases such as bovine pleuropneumonia.

Death and Afterlife.

Funerary practices accord to the Islamic stipulation that burial take place within twenty-four hours of death. An elder man or woman prepares the body for burial. After burial, many people come to visit the bereaved, and there is often a night-long vigil on the night of the death. Women mourners greet the bereaved with ritualized wailing, which includes a praise litany about the deceased. A forty-day mourning period is observed by both the men and the women who are close relatives of the deceased. This period may be more restrictive for a man, however, who may stay—with little activity and without shaving—under the men's sun shelter, where he receives visitors. The end of the forty-day mourning period is celebrated with a feast.


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