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Ghana's Fantasy Coffins

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Fantasy Coffins from Ghana
Cell phone fantasy coffin, Ghana

Cell phone fantasy coffin, Ghana

© Anouk Zijlma
Colorful coffins depicting giant fish, bibles, beer bottles, Bedford trucks and stiletto shoes can be seen in various coffin workshops in the Greater Accra area (Ghana). You can visit the original fantasy coffin workshop and get a tour (for a small 10 cedi tip) at the Kane Kwai Carpentry workshop on the Teshie-Tema road in Accra. There are also some wonderful coffins for sale in the Artists Alliance Gallery, one of the best contemporary art museums I have ever been to.

I visited a fantasy coffin workshop on the Accra-Tema beach road in the Labadi area of Accra. The carpenter was busy working out of a simple double story building. At the ground level we watched him working on a huge bible. A giant wooden calabash was ready to get a coat of paint. Chickens and children wandered in and out, finding things to peck at and play with on the dirt floor. The latest hip-life hits were playing on a radio. The top floor of the workshop was used as the gallery, easily visible from the road below. The gallery was stocked with coffins ranging from vegetables (for farmers), tuna (for the fishermen) and beer bottles (for those who enjoyed their brew).

Fantasy Coffin Roots - It's a Ga Thing
The Ga tribe live in the coastal area including Greater Accra, and it is their tradition to bury people in these colorful coffins. The first coffins made like this date back to the 1950's. Funerals are a big deal throughout Ghana. While there is of course mourning, funerals are also a celebration of the life that has been lived. The Ga people believe that there is an afterlife and the fantasy coffins help transport the dead to their new life, in style. The coffins are designed to represent an aspect of the dead persons life. Often coffins represent what the person did for their livelihood, but they can also depict a vice. You can occasionally see a cigarette, and beer bottles are quite popular too.

Most Popular Coffins?
Fish are popular with fishermen and the bible is popular too. But when I asked the owner of the coffin shop what was the most popular coffin? The answer was the Bedford truck. Not surprising given that the elderly dying at this time used to either drive, or be transported in Bedford trucks. Nowadays the tro-tro's are mostly Japanese-made mini-buses.

Can Anyone Get a Coffin Made?
Coffin workshops do take orders and can ship abroad. In 2011, a coffin for local use cost around $500. But for overseas clients who generally wish to showcase their coffins as opposed to getting buried in them, a better quality wood is used and the price is up around $1500 - $2000. Coffins take about a month to make, so in Ghana, the deceased is kept in the morgue for that period of time. It is considered bad luck to bring the coffin home ahead of the funeral.

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