Funerals are a huge deal in Ghana. There are many rules and regulations because tradition says that the dead watch over the living to make sure they are fulfilling their family responsibilities. Here is a brief background surrounding the funeral process.
If there is more than one death in a family, the oldest must be buried first, no matter how long someone else might have been dead. Bodies can be preserved by keeping them on ice. This insures that the family can have funeral clothes made and make the funeral preparations. It is a very expensive process, but of utmost importance in society.
Children under the age of eighteen are not given funeral rites. It is believed that if you perform a funeral for a child that the spirits will come back and take another child.
After a death, the spirit is believed to hang around for about forty days. Traditionally the family would have to sleep in the same room as the corpse, but with westernization many of these things are changing. Today most people still wear mourning clothes and eat only light foods forty days following the death of a close family member.
The burial is held before the funeral. The body is carried in a taxi with a parade of family members and friends behind it. This part of the funeral is more personal and private than the large funeral where the entire community is invited. As people follow the taxi they should cheer and dance, celebrating the life of the person lived. Some weep, and the sorrow is still present even though it is not readily apparent with a brief glance. While the burial is performed, the widow goes off and breaks a pot to signify that the marriage is over.
I cannot help but admire the funeral rites of Ghanaians. I think there is something to this celebration that they keep keying into. Death is inevitable, but what of the blessing that person was in this world and the happiness we shared with the loved one? Walking back from the burial I ran into Danielle. She turned to me and asked, “What is the party for?” I hope someday mine will be similar, and that someone else too could respond, “It is a funeral.”
(Field Notes 17.13, 24.3-10, 34.10-18, 87.6 Picture Files 0605)