Funerals are very important occasions in Ghana. Not only are they occasions to mourn the departed and give a befitting burial, they are also social functions and avenues for the display of culture, traditions and customs. Many try very hard not to miss funerals because of its relative sense of importance the perception of commiseration that it represents.
An expat attending a Ghanaian funeral can be a very confusing and sometimes an uncomfortable experience especially without a local guide or friend to explain proceedings or show how to act. It is against this backdrop that Green Views brings to you things an expat must know before attending a Ghanaian funeral.
Religion is at the heart of funeral practices and beliefs are strongly held on to and practiced. The multiplicity of religions has and the respect for beliefs and practices of other religions has led to the tolerance of religious differences.
5 Things an expatriate must know about Ghanaian Funerals
- Offer words of consolation
- Say good things about the deceased
- Respect the dress code
- Observe the culture and traditions
1. Offer words of consolation
Offering words of consolation to a bereaved person or group of people never goes out of relevance. When a loved one dies, friends and families enter a state of grief and the intensity of grief may depend on the kind of relationship they had with the deceased, the age and how the deceased person died. It is during these times of grief that people need soothing and comforting words, as well as reassurance that everything is going to be all right.
Many people also prefer to give out words of encouragement to the grieving family and friends. Words like “Take heart”, “be strong”, “your loved one is at a better place” and “accept my condolences” are well known phrases that are usually used to comfort bereaved ones. When comforting a bereaved one, it is very prudent to take into consideration the religion of the bereaved person so as not to inadvertently say something that is against his or her religious beliefs since it may not be taken lightly.
Ghanaians have a culture of giving out gifts during funerals and such gifts are intended to help console and more importantly help offset the debts the family may incur in the process of holding the funeral.
Traditionally, these gifts were given to the family to help pay the debts of the deceased and also to take care of relatives and the gifts came in all manner of forms like foodstuff, utensils and many other things. The kinds of gifts will heavily depend on the kind of occupation that is prevalent in the locality.
In our modern era, most of these gifts have been monetized and although gifts of other nature are welcome many people prefer to donate money. This is mainly because, other kinds of gifts may not be immediately of need to the family of the deceased; and since money can be used to solve basically most needs, it has become the natural substitute for other forms of gifts. It is a norm, even an expectation that sympathizers who attend a funeral will donate money hence provision is made for a gift table where all monetary gifts are taken to for due recognition.
Since this is a very important part of the Ghanaian funeral, it is important for expats to donate some money when they attend one.
3. Say good things about the deceased
As fallible as we are as humans we make many mistakes in life and some people choose to do good and others choose to do bad. In the Ghanaian society just like every other society everyone is expected to display good qualities and desist from vices. However, life happens and some people display some bad or undesirable qualities. When one dies, the mourners come together and share memories of the deceased which includes funny and hilarious moments and generally talk about the circumstances surrounding the death. It is really rare for mourners to be heard talking about some not so desirable qualities or deeds of the deceased and even if they do, they say it in a crafty and mournful so as not to get into trouble.
However, an expatriate should be very careful so as not to say anything bad about the deceased. It is better to remember and talk about good times and share the funny memories and your contributions will be appreciated.
4. Respect the dress code
In many cultures in Africa including the Ghanaian culture, one way of communicating or making social statements is by dressing up in particular ways. These however move with the belief of what certain colours represent and also the meaning of certain drawings and patterns.
The dress colours often encountered in funerals in Ghana includes black, white, red and a combination of these colours in different ways and patterns. Usually the family of the deceased decides on the dress colours for the funeral and this is usually based on some traditional principles which vary albeit slightly from tribe to tribe.
One of the popular customs is to wear white or black and white if the deceased was very old or was a twin (in some cultures). Moreover, it is worthy to note that Muslims have no dress code when it comes to funerals so you do not need to worry about particular dress codes. When you hear of the funeral arrangements of a deceased Ghanaian of which you want to attend, one of the first things you have to inquire about is the dress code.
Failure to do this can lead to feeling out of place during the funeral.
5. Observe the culture and traditions
Funerals serve as opportunities to have traditional cultures displayed and that attracts a lot of attention. One example of the tradition is that when greeting two or more people, it is done from the right to the left.
Others are drumming, dancing, pouring libations, certain greetings and exchanges and many more. While practicing the codes of conduct, it is very interesting to observe and learn more about the culture, traditions and practices.
The best experience is to have an indigene explain those practices. To avoid any kind of embarrassment, anything you do not understand, you have to ask and you will always have people coming to your aid.
Knowing these things before attending a funeral is essential and you would be a very good sympathizer.