The day after Modou’s death, droves of mourners appear at Ramatoulaye’s house to pay their respects. Modou’s close relatives appear as well, and the women among them help make the funeral preparations, bringing incense, holy water, white muslin, and dark wrappers to the hospital in order to dress the body. In accordance with custom, Modou’s young second wife, Binetou, is installed in Ramatoulaye’s house, to receive guests alongside her. Ramatoulaye is bothered by her presence but ultimately feels pity toward the girl. The male mourners form a funeral procession and accompany the body to its final resting place, while the women stay behind. Modou’s sisters ritually undo Ramatoulaye’s and Binetou’s hair.
Ramatoulaye’s description of the funeral preparations demonstrates just how much custom and tradition saturate Senegalese culture and experience—further, it demonstrates that Senegalese-Muslim rituals typically delineate distinct, complementary roles for men and women. Ramatoulaye’s complex feelings toward Binetou, her co-wife, include both indignation at having to associate with her husband’s second wife and a kind of maternal feeling—after all, Binetou is young enough to be Ramatoulaye’s daughter.
Custom dictates that Ramatoulaye serve as a hospitable host to Modou’s family and to her co-wife’s family, providing them with food and lodging and generally accommodating their every need. Ramatoulaye dreads this responsibility, most of all because it calls on her to surrender her personality and dignity in the interest of serving her estranged relatives. Modou’s sisters shower praises and words of consolation over Ramatoulaye and Binetou, but it bothers Ramatoulaye that they give equal consideration to both—Binetou was married to Modou for only five years, while Ramatoulaye was married to him for thirty. The men return from the funeral procession and offer their condolences to the women in a highly ritualized fashion.
In order to satisfy the demands of custom, Ramatoulaye must essentially erase herself, render herself transparent, and reduce herself to an object in the service of men. The fact that she and Binetou receive the same amount of attention only underlines the fact that Ramatoulaye’s “role” as the aggrieved wife has, in the eyes of the other mourners, overwhelmed any and all of her individual characteristics as a human being.