Ghana has some pretty unique ways of carrying out funeral activities which are usually done in cultural and religious contexts.
One thing almost every healthy and sane person hates and never wishes to occur is death. The sad reality of it slaps us out of our reverie and leaves us fully awake and conscious of our sense of loss when death occurs. Humans have over the years wanted to eulogize the dead and have ceremonies for the burial of their loved ones.
Due to the fact of the multiplicity of cultures in the world, different civilizations have different ways of carrying out these ceremonies as well as expected norms, behaviours and gestures during such ceremonies. Funerals in Ghana have become relevant worldwide due to the unique nature of its rituals.
Ghanaian death rituals and funeral practices
The process starts with when the unfortunate event is communicated friends, family and all people who might have known the deceased. As expected, such news is received with grief and the amount of grief expressed usually depends on the circumstances of death, the age as well as whom the deceased was and their influence in society.
Usually many people break the news on social media and there is a flood of a comments and commiserations. For usually the middle to upper class people and those with high societal statuses, a book of condolences is opened for all sympathizers to get a formal message of commiseration to the grieving family.
Wake keepings in Ghana
Ghanaians now have the tradition of observing the one week anniversary of the deceased. This is the occasion where many friends, family and sympathizers come around usually to the house of the deceased and offer words of consolation. So chairs and canopies are installed outside the home of the deceased according to the space available and the number of expected people.
The one week observance is also an avenue for the family of the deceased to raise some funds for the funeral hence many mourners who come around donate something and whiles greeting the family they say comforting words to the family members of the deceased.
Also, some families announce the final funeral date to sympathizers and the general public and there is usually a lot of sad music. The opportunity comes to formally announce the dress code or the kind of funeral cloth to wear for the funeral. The colours usually range from black, black and white, red, red and black.
Wake keepings are practiced in many cultures all over the world as vigils that are held on the night leading to the funeral day. Originally in some cultures, wake keepings were associated with prayers that were being offered during the vigil however, in many countries including Ghana, the wake keeping has slowly become a social interaction accompanying funerals. During wake keepings in Ghana, the corpse is dressed and laid in state for public viewing and dirges and inspirational gospel songs are played all night. Sympathizers usually comfort family members who display great grief and help them keep wake.
Ritual for the main funeral ceremony
The body is laid in state and all of the attendees at the funeral go and view the corpse. After a set time, the body is put in a coffin and closed. Announcements are given and the biography as well as the tributes of the dead person as written by friends, family, work and school colleagues are read.
During a Christian funeral, a pastor or priest preaches usually on the essence of living a good life and the hope for everlasting life in the future after which collections are done. The crying is usually taken a notch higher when the casket is taken by the pallbearers to be transported to the cemetery.
Interestingly, some families pay for dancing pallbearers who carry the coffin and do acrobatic displays before finally putting it into the ambulance to be carried to the cemetery. It is no surprise that a video of such activity went viral online and became a worldwide meme at one point in time.
Custom made caskets
Uniquely, some Ghanaians like to make custom caskets for their loved ones who have passed away. These custom-made caskets come in many shapes and sizes and are shaped to reflect the predominant occupation of the deceased. So a singer may be buried in a coffin shaped in the form of a microphone, a fisherman buried in a fish-shaped coffin, a barber will have a coffin shaped like a pair of scissors, a known drunkard will have a coffin in the shape of a beer bottle and a stool coffin for a chief amongst others.
Certain shapes such as the sword may represent a leadership role in society whether regal or priestly. So basically some families request certain custom-made coffins to depict the kind of life the deceased lived or what the deceased was well known for.
Traditionally, many believe that death is not the end of life and that life continues after death in a spiritual world. It is thus believed that ancestors are much more powerful than the living and can influence the living in so many ways and hence some families do all they can to pacify and please the dead and avoid their wrath and this forms a basis for some of the practices during funerals.
Ghana dancing pallbearers
Usually after the casket is taken away from the funeral grounds, it is taken via ambulance to the cemetery. At the cemetery, a short service is usually held with the minister offering prayers before the casket is lowered into the ground and covered up. After the burial, sympathizers usually come back to the funeral grounds where music is played and the mourners display their grief by dancing.
Ghanaian dirges are usually fast paced and danceable and mourners usually dance to communicate what they feel. During and after the short intermittent dancing, donations are made to the family of the deceased and mourners leave. A thanksgiving service is usually held in on the Sunday of the burial and is usually attended with Black and White as the dress code.