Ebola and Moving People: Understanding the Role of Embodied Techniques in Funeral Ceremonies to the Chain of Transmission of the Ebola Virus in Sierra Leone Through Movement Analysis


The paper focuses on exploring the potential of documenting the embodied techniques observed in the funeral ceremonies of Sierra Leone and identifying their socio-cultural relevance through movement study. Largely unknown until it was hurled into the limelight during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the funeral ceremonies were announced to have contributed to the spread of the Ebola virus. There was a failure from humanitarian and state actors to realise that understanding and cultural archiving practices, like funerals, can also contribute to stop the chain of infections. The Lack of acknowledgement for anthropological engagement during the onset of the humanitarian assistance resulted in two findings. Firstly, the delay in stopping the aggressive transmission of the virus, and secondly, the realisation that available knowledge about Sierra Leone’s funeral ceremonies was quite restricted and mostly constrained within the Ebola outbreak setting. Ethnographic inquiry was extensively utilised in collecting data in Freetown, Port Loko, and Koinadugu. The methods used included observation sessions, secondary data collection, key informant interviews, informal dialogues, and focus group discussions (FGD). Ultimately, the findings revealed that selected ethnic groups: Fulla, Krio, Kuranko, Limba, Madingo, Mende, and Temne shared comparable funeral practices that primarily requires full physical contact. The movement analysis demonstrated that embodied techniques were not only symbolical and functional but also fatal in the spread of the Ebola virus. This paper investigates their regular and collective performance in funeral ceremonies, explicated beliefs and negotiation dexterities during critical events such as the Ebola outbreak.

Keywords: embodied techniques, funeral, Ebola, transmission, Sierra Leone