Colors of Ghanaian funeral attire explained
In this age of modernity and technology, does it really matter what colors one wears to say goodbye to the dead?
On weekends, particularly Saturdays, most streets in Ghana become awash with mourners clad in red, black, and sometimes white clothing.
The Ghanaian is very superstitious and has a strong belief in ghosts and ancestors. It is believed the dead cannot rest in peace until a befitting funeral and burial ceremony are held for them. According such courtesies to the dead requires special funeral clothes, which traditionally come in red, black, brown, and white colors.
People sometimes have to pay a high price for these clothes. But the reality is, one cannot afford to attend a funeral in just any attire without attracting criticism. According to Dr. Dan Bright, a sociologist at the University of Ghana, funerals are special occasions in Ghana because they celebrate the life of the deceased. “When a person dies, he enters the spiritual realm, and for that matter, the ordinary cloth we wear will not be appropriate. It is a special event,” Bright said.
Culturally, the black and red attire for funeral ceremonies in Ghana signifies a grieving period. Traditionally, red is associated with danger and black with grief, hence the use of these colors to communicate the passing of a loved one.
However, when a person grows to a ripe old age of seventy years and above, the belief is that the person has lived long and has been blessed, so why not rejoice instead of grieve? Traditionally, white signifies victory or joy; so on such an occasion as the final funeral rites for someone over the age of seventy, the white cloth is used to celebrate the life of that person. In most cultures in Ghana, too, the white cloths are worn on Sunday, the final day of the funeral rites, to show relief in the assurance that the deceased has made a successful transition into the spirit world.
It isn’t easy trying to unravel the history behind the use of these colors, but as Dr. Bright points out: “These colors have become symbolic in our culture, and as we all grow, we get associated with them.”
According to Ghanaian customs and traditions:
The Red cloth is often worn by close relatives to show how deeply they feel about the loss of their loved one.
The Black cloth is worn by distant relatives and well-wishers who come to mourn with the family. This shows that they are grieving and feel the pain of the family as if it were their own. Black is also associated with death and mourning in Ghana, hence the use of that color.
The White cloth is worn when the deceased was seventy years and above to celebrate having lived a full life. Rather than a cause for sadness, it is seen as a joyous occasion. The white also, in some cultures, represents resurrection and victory over death.