“In Ghana We Fancy Funerals”

An Asante funeral committee, with a sizable purse, might hire someone to produce the thanksgiving service programme booklet, which will have numerous photos of the deceased accompanied by a biography and commemorative words from spouse, children, grand-children, friends and colleagues of the deceased; posters will be made to advertise wake, burial, funeral and thanksgiving service dates, which will include names of chief mourners. Rental of a huge roadside advertising billboard, is not uncommon for Asantes to announce the departure of a loved one.

Funeral billboard

Ghana funeral billboard by the roadside.

Friday is the designated day to remove bodies from the morgue. Keep in mind a body might have been there for months up to years while the deceased’s family makes “the necessary preparations” for the funeral. In all traditional Ghanaian cultures Friday night wake seems to be a common ritual. After that has been observed alas, Saturday, the typical burial day finally arrives. Memorial or Thanksgiving Day Service follows on Sunday, in a church for Christians, and at home or the shrine grounds for Traditional African Religion adherents. All three celebrations are dominated with music, dancing and singing.

If the mourning family is Ewe they will observe the burying of the deceased’s special cloth on the third day following her burial. Asante and Ewes will observe the fortieth day of the burial with a simple setting up of chairs at home for mourners to again stop by to express their condolences. This will be accompanied with the ready flow of palm wine and alcohol.

Asantes observe their ritual one year anniversary with the same low key attitude of the fortieth day observance and of course, palm wine and liquor are again a prerequisite. Such reverence for the dead is probably why the West continues to incorrectly state continental Africans practice ancestral worship. Ghanaians, like all other traditional Africans, worship one entity—God.

The long delay before a burial is sometimes because of waiting for the arrival of family members from aboard, but very often this is not the case. When I asked what preparations could possibly necessitate a body staying at the morgue for six months to over a year the response was simply, “Oh, the usual preparations.” Eventually, with much persistence, I was told “the usual preparations” often meant the deceased’s family is amassing the small fortune that seems to be a prerequisite for funerals in Ghana.

If the dead belongs to a royal family and is a king, queen or sub-king or sub-queen it is quite normal for the body to be secretly buried and wait years before the funeral celebration is held.

The date for a royal funeral is often deferred due to chaos regarding who is to succeed the deceased unto the stool. Although by tradition stool succession should be a straight forward matter a host of tactics are employed to ensure the ‘right’ person ascends unto the stool.

Until someone is communally selected for enstoolment, or the right palms have been greased, the dead royal member does not get a funeral celebration. Yet, burial of a ‘commoner’ involves just as much theatrics with some family members scheming to avoid paying an equal share of the funeral expenses.

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