FUNERALS IN GHANA
Funerals in Ghana are not just an occasion to mourn but also an opportunity to celebrate the life and pay respect to the departed soul. Ghanaian funerals these days are very elaborate and it is very common for families to spend more money on funerals than on weddings. Funerals are now social gatherings with large number of mourners in attendance.
There are different rites when it comes to funerals ceremonies in Ghana and this is dependent on the various tribes across the country and their way of burying their dead. Another contributing factor in the process of how a person is buried includes the age, religion and status. For example, the way a chief is buried might be different according to traditions.
When there is a death, the role of the family is very important. According to most customs and traditions, the body belongs to the family. The family in this context refers to the extended family into which one was born, a spouse and children suddenly do not qualify in this instance. The family then decides on who the chief mourner is and that person becomes responsible with decision making leading to the burial of the departed soul.
After the death of an individual, the family may leave the body in the mortuary for so long as they have the money to pay for the mortuary fees. In the interim, messages will be sent to all relatives far and near. If there are children and siblings outside the country, they will be informed. A week after the death, the family will gather to celebrate what is known as the one week celebration. This is the time when burial arrangements are decided on.
Depending on where children and siblings are, the burial may take place in a short time or they will wait for those outside the country to return. When the date for burial has been established, it is a common sight along the major roads to be hit by colourful posters advertising funeral arrangements.
In most tribes, funerals are held on weekends. Fridays for wake keeping, Saturdays for burial service and Sundays for thanksgiving service but this is dependent on family, tradition and religion.
It is not surprising to see there are two or more funerals in the same area or town. Hundreds of people come together to pay their last respects to the deceased loved ones, or to sympathize with a bereaved friend.
On the day before the burial (mostly on Fridays), the body will be retrieved from the mortuary and brought to the family house or a designated venue. Special family women who are versed in handling dead bodies or people popularly called undertakers, will do the bathing and preparation. The body will be laid in state and family members will keep vigil over it. Visitors will file past it and stay for a period.
People dress up and travel to attend a funeral in another towns or villages and in return, it is expected of the bereaved family to entertain them with music, dance, drinks, and food. During the burial ceremony, well wishes are encouraged to make donations for the family of the dead.
Funeral attire colors
It is believed it is appropriate to give the dead a befitting funeral and burial so they can rest in peace. It is inappropriate to wear just any ordinary cloth to a funeral in Ghana so this requires special funeral clothes, which traditionally come in red, black and red, black, black and white, brown and white colors. These clothes do sometimes come with high prices.
The family decides on which colour and name of cloth to use for the funeral (most Ghana fabrics do have names and meanings to them). The cloth worn by close relatives of the deceased is different from those worn by distant relatives and well wishers who come to mourn with the family.
In Ghana, the wearing of black and red attire for funeral ceremonies culturally 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 be seventy years and above, it is believed that person has lived long and has been blessed, so their passing is a time to rejoice rather than 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 the departed soul. In most cultures in Ghana the white clothes are worn on Sundays 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.
Coffins have become a statement in Ghana. Though some people choose to bury their dead in normal shaped coffins, there are others that are manufactured usually brightly coloured, elaborate and festive.
Often called “fantasy coffins“, they represent something about how the deceased lived or that resembles the dead’s favourite objects. A fisherman may get a fish coffin, a carpenter a hammer, a photographer a camera, a musician a microphone. Someone devout may choose a Bible. There are also caskets shaped like Coca – Cola bottles, a shoe and airplanes.