Cultural Spotlight - The Fantasy Coffins of Ghana

June 25, 2021

Cultural Spotlight - The Fantasy Coffins of Ghana

Ghana is perhaps best known for its elaborate, expensive, and lengthy funeral practices. Citizens of this African country will keep their deceased loved one's remains stored in refrigerated storage units for months at a time, and in some cases years, while they plan the proceedings to send their dead to the afterlife. The while affair is taken very seriously, and on top of that, the family needs this time to raise the funds required to help their loved ones transition to the afterlife with all of the flair they deserve. Several sources cite that DJs, caterers, photographers, bartenders, celebrities, and even "professional mourners" are often invited to funerals, which last several days. There is a mark of a successful celebration that has made itself known to the Ga people and the world in the last 70 years or so, which is the construction of "fantasy coffins".

These custom caskets are crafted by master artisans of the trade into any number of shapes: chili peppers, animals like lions or fish, cars of specific makes like Mercedes Benz and Porsches, airplanes, cocoa pods, homes, etc. The man attributed to beginning this trend lived during the Accra era in Ghana and was a carpenter named Seth Kane Kwei. The story on how this began varies, but one thing is for sure: Kwei's appretices took his teachings to heart and are still crafting these fantasy coffins to this day. Paa Joe is one of the most well-known of these apprentices, and his crafts have been sold for nearly $10,000 and are exhibited in international art museums to this day. Another shop is named directly after Kwei and is called the Kane Kwei Carpentery Workshop.

In Ghana, these coffins are called Abeduu Adekai, which translates to 'proverb boxes', but English-speakers would reference them as Fantasy Coffins. Each one has a symbolic meaning and is made specifically for the person who will be burried within it. The idea is that the coffin honors the person's exploits in life, or their financial station, or their dreams, goals, or aspirations. One wealthy man requested that his coffin be shaped after the Mercedes he owned, while another man's family commissioned a Chili Pepper to bury him in. This was not only due to his lifelong trade as a farmer, but also due to his spicy personality.

The idea that these works of art will not be seen once they have been buried does not seem to dissuade the Ga people from spending close to $1000 on these elaborate caskets. For them, it is all about celebrating the life and achievements of their lost beloved, and helping to ease their transition into the afterlife.

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-46142977

https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/29/africa/ghana-fantasy-coffin/index.html

https://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/funerals/ghana-fantasy-coffins.htm

https://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/artistry-departed-fantastic-coffins-ghana


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