12 July 2009

Subas: the original hangmen?

I'll get off the macabre topics eventually, but after confirming a peculiar cultural practice related to death at the Anthropology Museum recently I thought this one was worth sharing.

A "suba" (I'm probably not spelling this correctly) is a village elder that is respected and relied on for advice when important decisions are being made. This person wears a special hat that signals his significance. So far, so good. The odd part comes after this person dies, at which point the dead body is hung in a public place by a noose around the neck. The body hangs there as long as it takes for the head to detach itself from the body, at which point the head is preserved in a special hut where the heads of previous subas are kept (I have no idea what happens to the body). The hut then serves as a sort of inspiration center for future generations of community leaders when seeking guidance.

I first heard about this practice from an Angolan colleague in Benguela, but the practice was confirmed this past week by the curator of the Anthropology Museum in Luanda. The curator noted this kind of thing doesn't really happen much anymore, but that doesn't take away the fascination value for me.

I remember seeing the nooses used to hang famous outlaws that are part of the exhibit at the gun museum in my hometown (J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum :: www.thegunmuseum.com), but using something similar to hang someone as a sign of utmost respect is a visual that just doesn't go away easily.

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