The Late Departed

Christian Funerals in Ghana are a big deal. Really big.

Ghanaians have described them as “equal in planning to a wedding.” Some even admit their families have gone into debt to deliver a socially acceptable funeral. Though my last US funeral was years ago, I saw many differences when attending my first Ghanaian one over the weekend in Accra.


1. The Obituary

US – Typically published in a newspaper; perhaps also elsewhere specific to the person who died (i.e. society newsletter)

Ghana – Announced in church, displayed on posters and fliers around town

2. The Embalming Period

US – Funerals typically take place no later than a week or two after the death

Ghana – Due to the extensive preparations required, funerals occur after several months; a year’s delay, though not common, is perfectly acceptable [the body remains at the morgue during this time]

3. The Funeral Dress

US – Black, and the more black the better

Ghana – Black is consistent throughout mourning garb, but red features strongly when the deceased is young (red represents pain) and white is predominant when the deceased is old (celebrating a pure soul’s transition to the afterlife); the family selects a specific fabric print and members/close friends tailor new shirts or dresses for the funeral


4. The Wake/Visitation

US – A day or two before the burial, friends and family visit the immediate family (usually at a funeral home) to express condolences and personal grief; half-open caskets are common; the visitation lasts a scheduled number of hours

Ghana – The wake lasts all night; friends and family visit the family home where the open casket is on display; all night singing and dancing ensues

5. The Service & Burial

US – Usually a very solemn morning church service with emotional tributes read by a few family members; the coffin is displayed in the center aisle; a hearse leads the funerary procession to the cemetery followed by a parade of personal cars

Ghana – Similar service structure, but less grief-stricken and including a congregational procession around the casket (now closed); immediately following the church service is the newer Casket Dance tradition:

Well-wishers follow the hearse to the cemetery for in hired or shared taxis more often than in personal cars

6. The Reception

US – Receptions take place at the family home; light food and refreshments are provided; stortyelling and friendly conversation characterize the occasion

Ghana – those family members planning the reception skip the burial, to prepare the next event of the weekend; copious amounts of beer and local food are served, the music is ear-splittingly loud – as everywhere in Ghana – and Azonto dancing is frequent and spontaneous; attendees are expected to donate monetarily to the family (names & amounts are recorded)

A second, smaller reception is held after church the next day (most funerals are on Saturday), reserved for family and close friends; donations are not solicited on this day, but dancing is.


7. The Vibe

US – Emotional struggle to be a positive support to the chief mourners

Ghana – Stressful family party with societal expectations (plus parting gifts)


2 responses to “The Late Departed

  1. Pingback: Remembering Atta Mills | The Menace of the Years

  2. Pingback: Firsts and Lasts | The Menace of the Years

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