Caribbean Thoughts

by Carol Mitchell

Celebration of Life – Part 2

Ghanaians celebrate the end of life with the same gusto that they welcome it. For the Ashanti tribe, it is of particular significance. A funeral is a major social event.

Ashanti funerals often take place several months, even over a year after the person has died. The reason is that the family must often save for quite a while to raise enough money to give their loved one what is considered an appropriate send-off. Large funerals signal the family’s love for the deceased and the family’s status in life. The funeral is believed by some to pave the way for the person’s spirit into the next life.

Ghana Coffins - Tiger

For me, it is difficult to understand the elaborate preparations for a funeral celebration in light of the day-to-day struggles and sacrifices faced by so many in Ghana, and the number of children who go without their basic needs fulfilled.

I avoid funerals at all cost, and I have not attended an Ashanti funeral myself yet, but I intend to do so before leaving. I don’t need to know anyone who has died, anyone can attend a funeral by arriving appropriately dressed and asking permission from a family member. Ashanti funerals are three day events usually beginning with a Friday night wake and ending with a reception after Church on Sunday. Attendees sport the latest fashion with the family in red and other guests in black. I will write on this in greater detail once I actually attend an event.

One point of great interest is the “fantasy” coffins mostly used by people of the Ga tribe. About 50 years ago, a tradition began in Ghana of burying people in coffins that reflect their personality, trade, life’s work or unfullfilled aspirations. The story goes that the first such coffin was in the shape of an airplane, built by a husband for his wife who had always wished to ride in a plane but never had.

Coffin makers craft large, colourful, realistic versions of just about any item you can imagine. Mothers are often buried in coffins shaped and painted like a large hen. A fisherman may be buried in a coffin shaped like a fish or a boat; a carpenter, a hammer; a photographer, a camera; a writer, a pen. Someone devout may choose a Bible for their loved one. I heard of that one gynecologist was buried in a uterus shaped coffin. Cars (especially Mercedes and Cadillacs), mobile phones, leopards, lions, canoes, cocoa beans and several elephants are also very popular.

Ghana Coffins - Flour Bag and a Tro-Tro

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