It is probably no exaggeration to state that the biggest day of any Ghanaian’s life is their funeral. Yes I know that this is an illogical statement, but bear with me, please?
Perhaps because death is seen as a transition it is celebrated and mourned in equal measure here. When a person dies, the traditional Ghanaian believes that, he is making a journey to the next world, where he will live as an ancestor. Rituals are performed to exacting requirements to ensure that the passing of the spirit is good.
Funerals offer the biggest parties and best socialising in Ghana. The love of funerals mean that weekends are set aside for them, and there is a credible movement in Ghana seeking the reduction of the working week to four days, so that more time can be set aside to accommodate and enjoy these occasions.
The elaborate manner in which death is marked in Ghana means it is often one of the largest financial undertakings that a Ghanaian family will experience. Funerals are advertised on bill-boards, obituaries published and leaflets are distributed. The most distant of relatives invited and even passing strangers are encouraged to attend to swell the number of mourners. Chairs and canopies are hired, music is performed by invited bands and food is provided for all guests.
The expense of these occasions leads to some perverse decision making, as my fellow volunteer, Amanda, notes in her blog, ‘The family were not keen to refer her (the patient) to another hospital and told the nurses that the 200 cedes (£80 cost of the ambulance) would instead pay for an obituary. This was when she was alive!’ Anecdotally, Ghanians who struggle to pay for medical expenses or school fees, will rush to give money in the event of your death. I guess everyone likes a good party!
A visit to a town, or a journey through the country on a Saturday or Sunday, will soon reveal a gathering of mourners. You find yourself attracted by the noise and the traditional red and black colours of mourning. The vibrancy means that these affairs cannot be avoided.
Whole communities whether villages, towns or, districts of cities will turn out to mark somebodies passing, often multiple deceased honoured in one communal ceremony. Wakes last for days, presided over by tribal chiefs and religious ministers, solemn ceremonials that can be a mixture of ancient belief systems and imported organized religion such as Islam and Christianity. Once due respects have been paid and monies have been gifted to the families of the bereaved to assist with expenses, they morph into a celebration where villagers dance around the coffins and party with a joyous warmth.
So while, in truth, a Ghanaian funeral may not be the best day for the deceased, it will be the day that they are honoured and placed centre stage and for friends left behind It may well be a best day.