Celebrating death the Ghanaian style

While families elsewhere in the world mourn the dead, in many countries in Africa people say the dead don't die - they watch the living and require tender loving after-care.

While families elsewhere in the world mourn the dead, in many countries in Africa people say the dead don't die - they watch the living and require tender loving after-care.

From Kenya to Senegal to Madagascar, many feed and protect the dead from the cold, investing heaps of savings and generous goodwill for the best possible of after-lives.

"The dead are not dead," says Senegalese historian Ibrahima Thiaw."

"They must be cared for, when you have problems you return to their graves to pay respect. Death is a celebration, not an end," he adds, recounting funeral rites in the country's Christian and animist Serere region.

Interestingly, the word in Senegal's Wolof language for luck is weurseuk, which means going around the cemeteries.

While some cultures bury the dead with objects they might need in the after-life, Ghana's Ga people design fantasy coffins celebrating the loved one's life on earth.

At the Kane Kwei coffin workshop in the coastal village of Teshie, relatives can choose a coffin fashioned after the deceased's job or passions.

An airline pilot can be buried within a 747 complete with wheels for taxiing, and a fisherman inside a fish with elaborate white fins.

"The man whose family ordered a coffin in the shape of a tortoise was someone who took his time to solve problems," says Eric Anang.

"Our most recent delivery was an armoured car. The military wouldn't let us copy a real one and so we had to take the design from the Internet.

"The people who ordered it had seen a gun we made, but wanted something original for their father, who was an officer."

Some coffins, most notably cockerels, two of them standing proudly on display, are reserved for chiefs, unless shipped abroad, in which case the rule is overlooked.

Sometimes the deceased stays at the morgue for months while relatives quibble about what coffin would be appropriate and who will pay for what, says Anang, as he watches his craftsmen creating a Bible coffin. - Sapa-AFP

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