Ghana “where anyone can get out in style”
Which coffin do you fancy?
Who wants to visit death on vacation ?
Believe it or not, a visit to Ghana’s coffin makers is on most tourists’ itineraries here!!
I would have never find alone the Kane Kwei Coffins oldest shop in this road near Labadi Beach without Accra Accueil visit last year…
In European cultures, we cremate our dead or bury them in a simple pine box.
But coffins are a lot fancier in Ghana, where the Ga people believe that life continues in another world after death, and they want it to carry on in style.
And while a funeral lasts just a few hours, since eternity is, well, eternity, it’s important to spend it in style!!
In April 6th, 2016, I had an interview with Eric whose grandcather created the first fantasy coffin. You can learn more on their Ghana coffin history website.
He explained me everything and i will share it now with you :
First: its ORIGINS BELIEVES
The reason why mostly all ghanaian use such coffins is their religious beliefs regarding the afterlife.
They believe that death is not the end and that life continues in the next world in the same way it did on earth.
The social status of the deceased depends primarily on the importance, success and usage of an exclusive coffin during a burial.
During the delivery to the customer, the coffin is enveloped of kraft paper or cloth because tradition wants work to be revealed only at the time of funeral.
AND ITS MEANING
They often symbolise the dead people’s professions. but also what they did for a living, their hopes, their vices…
Certain shapes, such as a sword or stool coffin, represent regal or priestly insignia with a magical and religious function. Only people with the appropriate status are allowed to be buried in these types of coffins.
Some animals, such as lions, cockerels and crabs can represent clan totems. Similarly, only the heads of the families concerned are permitted to be buried in coffins such as these.
A fisher will be buried in a coffin in the form of fish or in a fishing boat, a professor in a fountain pen balk, etc.
The one who used to ask for a “beer shape “coffin was first not well seen by ghanian…but these years now, it is no more seen as an hard drink person but a person enjoying festivity in life. The ghanaian who asked the bottle of coke or fruit juice were working in theses companies.
The aspirations of the missing person are reflected by the coffin which is intended for him: the plane for instance was never ordered to bury a pilot, but resides a symbol of distant trips testifying a social success. Same for luxury cars.
Fish are very popular designs–the fishing industry is big here–as are Bibles, the only fantasy coffins allowed in churches in this deeply religious country.
Making the coffins
Fantasy coffins are produced only to order. Carpenters have several apprentices who allow the them to make several coffins simultaneously or all work on a single one in urgent cases.
The coffins are generally made from white light local wood and not very expensive as the wawa or Nyame Dua. It will take two to six weeks to produce the coffin.
The woodworking is done using the simplest tools, without the aid of electrical ones.
Building is more or less complex according to the form of the model, the desired level of details.
The coffins of cylindrical or approached form (fish, mammals, fountain pen) are accomplished as a model of subject without worries of the opening intended to accept the body. This one will be later cut up.
The painting of the figural coffins can take up to two days to finish and are painted by the head of the workshop, local sign writers…. who usually decide together the coffin’ s patterns and colours.
One shop may produce 20 coffins by months. There are about 10 in Accra.
In a country where many people live on barely $2 a day, no expense is spared for the most important part of life: death. With prestige riding on the size and extravagance of the funeral, family members collect, borrow, and donate money to send their loved ones off to the afterlife in style. Funerals can cost up to a year’s salary.
ERIC COFFIN EXHIBITIONS ABROAD
Eric’s grandfather was the one who had the idea of such coffin, first for himself and then it spread in all the villages around …until Accra.
Now Eric is proud to open one more studio in Kumasi this year 2016.
In 2009, he was asked to participate in a moovie for coca cola ads for Spain to explain ghanaian coffins can see on youtube the Coca cola coffin TV ad.
Since then, he travelled a lots and still makes exhibition all over the world : in Russia in 2010’s (he did a Vodka bottle ;), Korea …. he sells one for $5000 to $10000 dollars now but it takes him a month to create it himself alone in the host country !
Eric also wants to deliver “messages” to people thanks to its fantasy coffin :
For exemple, in the US, in 2011, he created a coffin in shape of a gun, and they cut it in 2 during the exhibition to show and ask people to stop violence.
Another one was to preserve environment : it was a “fish coffin” with plastics inside. Plastic kills fish when they eat that in the sea…and coffin means death of course..
A very symbolic art !
The coffins cost between $300 and $1000 for ghanaian defunt with trees from kumasi uch as “wawa”and galeries or museums buy coffins up for $10,000 with wood from mahogany or “emery” wood.
Last Eric ideas for a tourist gift:
Recently, ghanaian have recognized the quirkiness of their coffins design and have reacreated them in gift size for tourists.
There is now a roaring trade in the smaller version !
Hope that if you come one day in Ghana, you will take time to discover this art with fantasy ghanaian coffins and talk to Eric in his coffins workshop !