A taste for Ghanaian funerals

Mon, 20 Feb 2012 Source: Ofori, Oral

and some strange burial practices of the world

By Oral Ofori

Funerals are traditional rites that date back to creation. For many

cultures across the world, they form part of the rites of passage

performed to usher the dead into the spirit world or the afterlife.

Funerals are deeply rooted in creation as these rites started to be

respected and performed right from the days of Adam and Eve, or where

ever the concept of creation starts for you as per your beliefs.

Every culture since civilization tends to the appropriate care of its

dead and most of them have three things in common as far as

disposition of the dead matters. Firstly, the organization of some

type of funeral rites, rituals, and ceremonies. Secondly, the securing

of a sacred place for burying the dead and thirdly, memorializing of

the dead.

It is all joy anytime a child is born, however death presents a direct

contrast. Even when people die at ripe old ages like in their 80's and

above, they are mourned by their families extensively or briefly

depending on the culture in which the death occurs. In the Ghanaian

custom, funeral rites share common procedures though there are some

noticeable distinctions. For some, the rank of the dead or tradition

from which they hail determines the way in which their funeral is


For example an important person like a King, Chief, or somebody from a

royal family or of noble standing is given a much more elaborate

funeral laced with all the associated rituals involved. It is common

practice among many Ghanaians in recent history to keep their dead in

the morgue for times stretching between two to three weeks to a month

or even in some cases years. If the dead person were a royal or holds

an office to which a successor is not easily or simply chosen, the

dead is normally kept for years, and this is not strange to the

Ghanaian culture.

In such peculiar cases, mourning goes on for as long as it takes to

prepare and plan the burial and continues even after the deceased has

been buried. In Ghana, the traditional dress color for mourning the

dead is black and in certain cases red. The wearing of the black dress

is very normal to every traditional home where funerals occur, in some

rare cases, the dress code for a funeral is white. When this happens,

the organizers of such funerals defend their use of white clothing as

their desire to celebrate the passing of the dead rather than mourning

them. This happens to be case when the deceased lived past 80 years or

more or might have died younger but made tremendous achievements in

their lives that many people are benefiting from.

In the past, funerals have been organized in a much simpler way to cut

down on cost, however, the case is no longer the same today. In recent

times funerals among Ghanaians and Africans up here in the States and

also those back home in their respective African countries have almost

become a business-like activity. The business of undertakers has

flourished in a more complex nature today. Decades back, to think that

people would even ponder making money off the occurrence of death was

unimaginable. Today the building of coffins to reflect the profession

of the dead is very common in Ghana. A doctor or fisherman for

instance might be buried in a coffin that is built to respectively

look like a syringe or a fish, and yes the photo you see .

Today some bereaved families hire the services of undertakers to

organize the entire funeral and do things like employing the service

of criers who weep till almost everyone becomes saddened by their

weeping and join in. The criers are believed to add bite to funerals,

bringing some dignity and honor to the dead and especially their

family. In many cases parties are organized with DJ's performing to

entertain relatives and friends of the dead. Funerals are now major

displays of extravagance in most parts of west Africa. Families try to

out do each other in terms of who organizes the best and most

expensive funeral(s). In certain regions of Ghana, funerals are major

platforms where people go to display their affluence.

The way in which a royal is buried is different from the way an

ordinary person is. A royal will be buried with all the necessary

regalia, pomp and pageantry, as was richly displayed in the case of

the Ghanaian culture during the celebration of the death and burial of

the Asante Hene, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II. The Otumfuo who lived from

November 30, 1919 died on February 26, 1999. For most royal families

in Ghana, the belief is that a royal is expected to continue his/her

reign in the spirit world after death. Owing to this concept, the

addition of gifts of remembrance and things that might come in handy

for the departed soul is placed in their coffin. This practice was

common in ancient Africa, especially among the Egyptians who are known

to have mummified dead Pharaohs in tombs built inside grand and

intricate pyramids thousands of years ago.

As earlier said, a unique feature about funerals among Ghanaians today

is that they have become expensive, and showy so much so that some

sections of society is getting irritated about it as some Ghanaians in

and out of the country would have preferred that the deceased is

buried solemnly and gracefully in an inexpensive manner, simply

because the dictates of today's glamorous funerals among Ghanaians

imposes huge expenses.

The pressure to organize elaborate and showy funerals his has

compelled many people who do not have the money for such to go ahead

and do it all the same. Most often than not, this becomes detrimental

to a grieving family as they are saddled with debt problems

afterwards. Though this has been condemned by many, people still

continue to indulge in such funeral extravagance and it appears not to

be a solely Ghanaian thing as cultures across the globe are guilty of

this phenomenon.

Situating the funeral of the Ghanaian in the context of other African

countries, there are very noticeable similarities as they basically

follow very similar patterns. There are however some differences

across Africa and the globe that are worth touching on due to how

bizarre they tend to be in nature. One such example is seen in the

African country of Congo where some Pygmies deal with death in an

entirely strange manner. The huts of the dead and that of those around

them are pulled down on top of the dead body and the community

evacuates their village camp.

Family members mourn the loss with crying. Afterwards, the dead

individual is never mentioned again. Similar to the Pygmies, the

destruction of the homes of dead people was common among the

Congolese. There is this superstition among relatives of the dead

among this custom that the dead sometimes return to where they died,

which is why besides the pulling down of their huts, family members of

the dead and in certain cases, entire villages walk a different route

in an attempt to prevent the spirit of their loved one from following

them back home.

Have you heard about the rare and ancient Hindu burial practice called

Sati? This rare Hindu practice involves a widow burning herself alive

during the funeral of her husband with the believe that this ultimate

act of loyalty to her husband will turn her into a goddess. Shrines

are put up in honor of a woman who does this. This practice is frowned

upon in modern day India but it very occasionally continues to happen.

In 1987, an 18-year-old girl cremated herself alongside her

24-year-old husband. Sati also happened twice in 2006 and once in


By now, cremation is no longer a 'wow' practice of disposition of the

dead. A wow discovery I however made was the fact that some cultures

today leave their dead to decompose out in the open whiles others let

vultures peck on the bodies of their deceased. But it is comfortable

to say that most cultures worldwide bury their loved ones who have

passed on, in the ground, a practice as old as creation itself and

talked about in the Christian Bible in Genesis 3:19 which reads...''by

the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the

ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust

you shall return''. May the souls of all the departed now rest in


Oral Ofori, +1202-706-9881, oralofori@gmail.com, Freelance Writer,

Broadcaster, Retail Specialist, Music Promoter, Artiste.


Columnist: Ofori, Oral