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Ghana: “What choice for your farewell?”

Ghana: “What choice for your farewell?”

Kathie Neal tells us how some Ghanaians choose to be buried in rather elaborate coffins!

What choice for your farewell?

One day, we were travelling along the coast road through Accra on our way to visit the Cultural Centre. We passed a number of shops and markets as you would expect to, but eventually came across a building on the roadside which caught our attention. It had huge glazed windows and was filled with enormous wooden sculptures – or what we thought were sculptures! We decided to pull over and take a look. 

We went inside and what we found was absolutely extraordinary - the sculpture-like objects were coffins! Ghanaians celebrate death by designing their coffin as something that was important to them in their life, or perhaps will look impressive. 

Ghana Our Africa Coffins imageFor example – we saw one coffin shaped as a fish, perhaps for a fisherman, another was the shape of an ear of maize and still others were shaped like Coca Cola and beer bottles … one was even shaped as a cow! Eerily, we came across one which was shaped exactly as the Panasonic camera being used by our cameraman – I think he was a bit unnerved. So it seems you can be buried in anything you like!

Most of the specially-shaped coffins are expensive and so only quite wealthy Ghanaians can afford them. The more elaborate ones take about a month to make. The carpenter who owned the shop, like many Ghanaians, was happy to talk to us about his life and work, and showed us around his workshop and explained to us how he made them. Everything was done by hand – a skill he had learnt from his father through the family business. 

Funerals in Ghana are extremely important occasions and very much a social event attended by large numbers of people; it is also an obligation to attend. The majority of Ghanaians are committed Christians and feel death should be celebrated, and the elaborate coffin as the centrepiece is characteristic of the festivity.

Our Africa

Kathie travelled to Ghana while preparing to make Our Africa, an educational resource designed to bring British schoolchildren closer to their African counterparts. Find out more.