Saturday, March 24, 2007

Funeral Rites 1: Of Invitations and Coffins

Note: I wrote this sometime back in December and then a close friend's brother died. Felt wrong to have posted then.

Ok, so I have just been invited to my first funeral. Yes, invitation card and all. Visualise a wedding invitation, just with a more sombre message, complete with a picture of the person while alive - and in some instances when dead! Mine read as follows:

Funeral Invitation
The entire bereaved family respectfully invite the company of
Miss Denise Clarke
To the Burial and final funeral rites of their beloved
(name withheld out of respect)
Wake keeping: On Friday, 5th January 2007 at Kodzi
Burial Service: On Saturday, 6th January 2007 at Global Evangelical Church at Kodzi at 11:00 a.m.
Interment: Family Cemetery, Kodzi
Thanksgiving Service: On Sunday, January 7th, 2007
Final Funeral rites follow immediately at Tema Community 2 Police Barracks

Forget about reserving one afternoon for a funeral. Instead you need to reserve three days, usually starting on a Friday and going through to the rest of the weekend. Where I work in Accra is close to the main cemetery, and driving on funeral days becomes a nightmare - even more so than usual! Suddenly an avenue that is normally a quick short cut is blocked by a sea of red, white and black (traditional funeral colours) as the bereaved family will not hesitate to cordon off roads to erect the funeral tents, complete with food, drink and the inevitable sound system blasting highlife music.

Funerals here are by their nature social, and it’s not uncommon to hear Ghanaians speak animatedly about missing work so they can attend a funeral. Verbal invitations to follow someone to a funeral are as regular and as acceptable as being invited out for drinks, and no, matters not that you don’t know the person or the family.

Recently in one commentary I read, it was noted that in Kumasi (the capital city in the Ashanti region) it was becoming more and more difficult to find venues for weddings and other social events as most hotels were constantly booked for the ‘after-funeral’ dinners complete with five course menus and champagne! Mourners of course were only allowed in to dinner IF they had an invitation!

There are different rites associated with different tribes – too numerous to mention now, but quite interesting. Time allowing, will perhaps look into that later as I find it quite fascinating.
Even more fascinating are the coffins.
This seems to be a speciality of the Ga tribe. These coffins are usually representative of the occupation of the person while they were alive. Others I guess just reflect the aspirations that were still unfulfilled. After all, I can’t imagine a Ghanaian pilot insisting in being buried in a replica of the (now defunct) Ghana Airways Boeing 737!

The most common ones seem to be: cocoa pods, Star or Club beer bottles (local
beers), Cocoa Cola and Fanta (local soda, or minerals as they are called here), fish, crabs, roosters (as in the chicken), onions, Mercedes Benz cars and Nokia phones. I have also seen the occasional AK47 but these are more for show I think.

Apart from the thought of being buried in one of the above, what I am often times puzzled by is how they fit the body into some of these spaces! Leaves a lot to the imagination. It’s actually a big business though with these specialised coffins starting fro USD 600 up.
For those of you who are as fascinated as I am a good read is ' Going into Darkness: Fantastic Coffins from Africa' by Thierry Secretan - really great pictures!
Also see: BBC News In Pictures: Fantasy Coffins which has beautiful pictures, the strangest one being a uterus shaped coffin that was ordered for someone who was a gynaecologist!

A friend of mine who is very much alive ordered one in the shape of a Star Beer, which he then transformed into a bar which he keeps in his dining room. Funny to see the surprise of most Ghanaians when they walk in!
Want to order a coffin?
Let me know.

1 comment:

saskia said...

hey dee,
on the issue of funerals and coffins, have you seen Eddie's blog? :)

Hope the link comes through in tact.
Love from NL