Funeral Customs in Ghana
For most of the Expo staff, living and working in Ghana means that there is a whole world of new customs to get used to. A very noticeable one is the funerals: they are made easy to spot by their red tents, groups of chairs, music and wailing amplified for all to hear, and the distinct black and red funural attire. On the communte to the office or one of the schools, it's not uncommon for us to sit next to a group dressed in black, on their way to a funeral. It's just as likely to hear the singing and dancing start up at 4:30 AM for a funeral down the street. Even though grieving the death of a loved one is universal, the particularities of Ghanaian funerals can be a little mystifying.
Expo's Operations Intern Emmanuel offers his insight on the customs of Ghanaian funerals – the Asante people in particular.
Ghanaian funeral, photo by Anthony Pappone
The Asantes are strict observers of cultural practices. They make sure every single stage of the custom is well observed. One cultural practice they attach seriousness to is their funeral rites.
Funeral rites are more or less like a festival to the Akans (a people group that spans from the Ashanti region to Brong-Anafo and includes most Twi-speakers). Mostly, it is observed on Saturdays. A week after the death of the person, they observe that day but those celebrations are not as big as the funeral day. On this day, the date on which the deceased will be laid in state is announced to the people present.
In Akan, the coffin is purchased by the children of the deceased. Sometimes the organization or association the deceased belonged to (like a church or charity) purchases it. Some also pay for the cloth that will be put on the dead body in state. On Friday, the day before the funeral day, the body is brought from the mortuary. Undertakers take care of the body (bathe, dress, and lay on bed). They cover the entrance to that place with a cloth. Early on Saturday, religious leaders pray then remove the cloth for people to see and mourn the deceased. If the deceased was a Christian, time is reserved for the church to have a burial service for the dead. Some churches take the coffin containing the body to the church, but others do everything at the place the body is being laid in state. During the service, biographies and tributes are read to the people present.
After the service, they take the body to the graveyard and bury it. All cries and mourning end there. You can not come back home with tears. Back at home, family, friends, and sympathizers find something to eat (which is mostly provided by the family of the deceased).
Ghanaian funeral, photo by Anthony Pappone
In the afternoon, they go to the funeral grounds and for what is called final funeral rites. There, those who are related by blood to the deceased will put on red cloth. Women wrap black cloth around their waist and red on top covering one shoulder. The sons of the deceased wear net caps with miniature ladders, red pepper and egg shells attached to it. The net symbolizes the helplessness of the wearer, like drowning in flood waters, rescued only by a net. The pepper symbolizes the seriousness of the occasion. Looking at the hotness and redness of pepper, you could imagine the sort of pain and grief the wearer is expressing. The miniature ladder symbolizes the ladder of death (the ladder of death is not mounted by only one person). The egg shells portray a saying, “Atome ne nkosuahene.” (I am left with only egg shells). Had the mother or father been alive, it would not have been egg shells, but rather a whole fowl.
On the funeral grounds, friends make donations to reduce – if not clear – the money invested into the funeral. Drinks are served to the donors. To be sure you are serving the right person, receipts are issued when you donate so you receive the drink with the receipt. A photo of the deceased is placed in the middle of the gathering for those who did not know him or her. They play songs. The content of the songs they play consoles, mourns, and talks about death itself.
On Sunday, the family of the deceased goes to church to give thanks to God and to the congregation for their support. They also ask for God's blessing. After church, they go back to the funeral grounds to continue with the donations. However, the dress code for this day is black and white cloth. This symbolizes thanksgiving to God and also an end to the mourning. The songs they play on this day are mostly gospel.
On Monday, some elders of the family gather to calculate the amount of money which was invested and the amount of money gained from donors. There can be a profit or loss. Aside from that it is also a day of settling disputes among family members if there are any. It will be very difficult to get every member of the family to meet for dispute settling, so they take advantage of the funeral gathering to do that.
Students will not attend a funeral, unless it is the death of one of their classmates. Otherwise, they continue in school.