The long goodbye—why the dead are revered in Ghana

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Funerals in Ghana are not only an occasion to mourn. They are also an opportunity to celebrate the life of the dearly departed. Hardly ever a somber, low-key affair, funerals have become social events attended by a large number of mourners, which could reach hundreds- the more, the better.

That means the person was very friendly, very charitable, was good to socialise, was having a good communication with the people within the society.  Ghanaians may spend as much money on funerals as on weddings, sometimes even more. An average funeral should cost between GH¢20,000-GH¢25,000

That includes the obligatory giant, colorful billboards that announce funeral arrangements. The billboards, which may cost from nearly GHC2,800 to GHC12,000, are placed at strategic spots for everybody to see, often dotting the cities’ skylines.

Most funerals are held on the weekends, most frequently on Saturdays. Mourners, usually dressed in black or black and red traditional funeral clothing, may travel to other towns or villages, and in turn they expect the bereaved families to provide food, drinks, music and dance.

 

Coffins have become a statement in Ghana. They are usually brightly colored and elaborate. They may have fanciful shapes that resemble the dead’s favourite objects, or represent their profession. Thus, a carpenter may have a coffin shaped like a hammer, or a shoe for a shoemaker. There are also caskets shaped like Coca-Cola bottles and airplanes.

 

Ghanaians revere the dead so much that funerals are at the heart of Ghanaians’ social life. Lavish spending on funerals has however, invited criticism from political and religious leaders. “We are investing in the dead rather than the living … and that is bad,” the Second Deputy Speaker, Hon Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin once said.

Most Reverend, Bishop Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, the Archbishop of Accra, said:

“The surest way to remember the dead is not the type of coffins used to bury them nor is not the type of cloth or T-shirt won during their funerals, but doing something positive for the dead which would benefit the living.”

Funeral rites also involve some official crying by mourners, as well as praying.

 

Today Gender 

…with Thelma Asantewaa

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