Kory death rituals

Death in the Kory culture is an elaborate affair. I have written elsewhere of the rites and rituals surrounding the disposal of the body. I will focus here on the impact on the clan and immediate members of the family. I interviewed Klio, whose husband was killed by a wild boar during a hunt. The meat was offered ceremoniously at the internment. Her face was still smeared in ash and clay, and would remain so as long as she saw fit.

We could only refer to her husband by the relationship they had. His name was no longer to be uttered, and would never again be used in naming another child. Anyone who had a similar name would be encouraged to add a syllable in front. For example, someone named Opona where the deceased was Oponge, would now be called Keopona. Because the tonic accent was on the first syllable, the name would sound differently and no longer cause undue grief and pain. In the olden times, a finger of the relatives would be amputated at the first phalange to indicate the hurt, and the closeness and harmony shattered. Nowadays, this tradition was no longer followed, but people still felt a need to symbolize the loss. A number of the Kory had taken to sporting a tattoo of a hand with a severed finger, or alternately the finger would be dark and shown with a red string on it, which was the first stage before the digit was cut off. Klio had such a tattoo from the earlier death of her beloved sister. She planned to get the tattoo updated to signify her husband’s demise.

They had buried the body with all that was dear to him: his radio, his wristwatch, his fishing hat and lures (much to the chagrin of his fishing buddies), various tools and weapons. It was better that way – seeing those things would have been a daily reminder of his departure. This way, and by never again saying his name, it was said that his spirit would be free to join the stars. Still, Klio confided in me (surely because I was an outsider and did not know how wrong it was), she dreamt of him almost every night. They had been very close, and in the dream, he was either holding her hand, lovingly caressing an amputated finger, or saying goodbye in different ways. His death had been sudden and unexpected, and they did not have time to do so in real life. In the dream, she would sing his name, or whisper it in his ear. Sometimes, at that point, he would simply vanish in a wisp of smoke. She could not ask for advice, as these dreams were forbidden. She found a measure of relief just sharing them with me.

An anthropologist’s job is delicate. Just the recording or interviewing of subjects could change the dynamics and introduce new elements in the culture. It’s a difficult juggling act that requires much tact.

Shooting Stars

In the Kory culture, all of humankind is represented in the stars. Mental states are parts of constellations. Someone who is depressed is in the constellation of the lala, a dark flower which blooms at night. It attracts bats, creatures of the night who typically feed on insects but also pollinate this unusual flower. From the lala emanates a subtly putrid smell, reminiscent of decaying flesh. In this culture, Lalaland has a rather bleak landscape. People there lack physical and mental energy. Actions and thoughts require a great deal of effort so its inhabitants spend much time sleeping, hence the nocturnal flower.

Someone suffering from delusions also holds a sacred place in the night sky. There is a constellation called the dandelion. It boasts a cluster of stars that seem to pulse through the night as some stars fade and some get brighter. It gives a feeling of expansion, as though a breeze scatters the stars over the course of the night.

In a similar vein, people with eating disorders can find themselves in the vicinity of Venus, the planet alternately known as the morning star or the evening star. It represents the confusion these people feel about their place in the world, as they cannot decide whether to live or die. This ambiguity around survival is seen as a deep philosophical conflict and people with eating disorders are highly regarded in that society.

Everyone can claim a spot of their own in the sky and explain the constellation in terms of their worldview. Everyone’s logic is accepted – the stars exist and the person exists. The correlation is easy to make. When you feel you no longer fit that constellation, you wait for a shower of shooting stars and change your allegiance. Great ceremonies are held during such a time, and people reinvent themselves publicly, and their new personality is accepted as such.

Anthropologists have studied mental health in different cultures and concluded that the Kory have elevated its understanding to an art form. By mapping their internal states to a very public manifestation in the sky, the mythology becomes powerful, and their being becomes woven in the fabric of life. There exists a very strong social network and a shared kinship with the elements. There is also an understanding that people change over time and across seasons. In the rainy season, people rely more on the symbols on Earth to maintain their sense of self. When people fall in love, they look to the sky to divine their compatibility. They create a shared story to marry their unique place in the sky.

The Kory Creation myth is not centered around the Sun and the Moon, but is based on subtle relationships between the stars. The Kory, of course, are keen navigators, on land and on the seas. Each constellation is a friend with a dark or sunny personality. There are no right or wrong. There just is. They are a well-adjusted compassionate people with a scientific bend.