The Death Throes of Sacrificed Chicken

Triggering Critical Reflexive Stances on Ritual Action in Togo

in Religion and Society
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In Kabye society, the commonest sacrificial rites include a device that may prompt celebrants to question their own ritual practice. As in other West African societies, the acceptance or refusal of an offering by a divinity is read in the death throes of the first chicken to be sacrificed. If the fowl does not die in the expected position, the ceremony is interrupted. Celebrants scrutinize the execution of the rite to identify the mistake that led to the sacrifice’s refusal, and they submit their hypothesis to the divinity. However, the resumption of the rite is not conditioned by the correction of the mistake. It is often sufficient that officiants recognize and reassert the rule that they should have followed. The case of a bull sacrifice demonstrates how the celebrants’ self-critical practice may promote a ritual effectiveness in connection with the dialogical and pragmatic nature of the rite.

Contributor Notes

MARIE DAUGEY is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow supported by the Fyssen Foundation and hosted at the LASC research center (University of Liège, Belgium). She has been working on the organization of ritual life in Kabye land (Togo) and is now conducting a research project on the Kabye rituals that require the participation of children as images of a substitute. Her PhD in anthropology (defended in 2016 at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris) focused on an analysis of Kabye male initiation rites and their connection with the ritual construction of the territory. E-mail:

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  • View in gallery

    A chicken died on its back flapping its wings during a feminine initiation rite in the village of Farende, 7 December 2010

    Photograph © Marie Daugey

  • View in gallery

    Anxiety when the chicken died on its belly in front of a baobab tree housing a protective lineage spirit in the village of Soumdina, 1 November 2017

    Photograph © Marie Daugey


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