I asked the lady sitting next to me on my flight if she was heading back home to Ghana for a vacation. "No", she said "a funeral". I muttered my sincerest condolences and prepared myself for a somber ten hour flight. Within an hour, twelve family members had surrounded our seats, chatting, laughing and drinking wine. This was not the scene I had expected. On arrival in Accra, I was struck by ubiquitous billboards and fliers all commemorating deceased family members. When I picked up The Daily Graphic newspaper, it listed numerous announcements for funeral arrangements, including suggestions on what color outfits to wear when attending.
I'd arrived in Ghana on a Saturday. Around almost every street corner there seemed to be a funeral going on with people dressed in similar black and white outfits, smart hats and traditional prints. I never figured out what part of the funeral they were attending. It could have been: the Wake, Lying in State, Burial Service, Interment, Final Funeral Rites, Thanksgiving Service, or a post funeral family gathering. Funerals in Ghana take several days to complete.
On my first dusty walk out on the streets of Accra, I passed the Teshie coffin workshop. Giant colorful pink fish, crabs, cell phones and Bedford Trucks were proudly on display. In the back, a carpenter was busy working on a huge bible coffin. It certainly inspired me to change my own funeral plans. I think I'd like to be buried in a giant airplane -- the coffin-maker said he could arrange that for around $500, which is a pretty good deal by any standard.
After just one day in country, it had become pretty obvious that funerals in Ghana are unlike funerals anywhere else in the world. In Ghana a funeral brings family and friends together to celebrate a life, not to mourn its passing. In Ghana, a family expects to spend more on a funeral than a wedding. If the deceased was an important individual, the funeral can take place months, even years after their demise, just to ensure a great turn out. The New York Times had a nice feature last weekend about Ghanaian funerals in New York. Apparently they're just as lively and fun as back home.
Images of Bible Coffin being made and Fish Coffin -- © Anouk Zijlma