Oral performance as substitute for ritual: Ekutet, a Teso exhumation ceremony





Ekutet, ritual, memory, narration, re-enactment, emotions, displacement, replacement, representation


Among the Teso of Western Kenya, Ekutet (the exhumation ceremony) has for centuries been practised to treat physical, mental, and/or emotional problems. A family’s, or the community’s, persistent misfortunes such as frequent deaths, illnesses, accidents, or unexplained feuds and such other grief causing occurrences may be attributed to an unhappy dead member of the family or community. To correct the situation and bring life back to normal, the unhappy dead member’s bones are exhumed, either for reburial or display in a sacred place. Notably, the ritual is performed to the accompaniment of oral performances, rendered as narrations, incantations, swearing, prayer chants, and occasional re-enactments of attendant dramatic anecdotes. This article is written against the backdrop of the realisation that the Ekutet ritual itself appears to be diminishing, which then raises a pertinent question: What replaces, or has replaced, the role that this highly psychological ritual has usually played in the lives of the Teso people? I interviewed members of the community, while analysing the oral performances incorporated in this socio-cultural cum spiritual endeavour. Due to the fact that the actual ritual has become quite rare, people apparently try to keep it alive by revisiting the memory of the ritual, which they do through re-enactments and mock exhumations. This then also draws attention to the role of memory, narration, and re-enactment in either the resuscitation of, or the reliving of, diminishing ritual practices.


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Author Biography

Joseph Mzee Muleka, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya

Joseph Mzee Muleka is senior lecturer in the Department of Literature, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya.


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How to Cite

Muleka, J. M. (2023). Oral performance as substitute for ritual: Ekutet, a Teso exhumation ceremony. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 60(3), 43–49. https://doi.org/10.17159/tl.v60i3.14538



Research articles