The passing of someone you loved is always a time to come together and give each other strength to get through the hard times. A direct cousin of my host family died early February after being sick for many years. Through this and other interactions I have learned the importance of funerals in Ghanaian culture.
First, once a person dies relatives, number could be more than 15, gather in the home town to begin organizing and planning the funeral. Every week, usually on Sunday mornings, relatives come together and make sure everything is coming together. The funeral can occur weeks to months after a death to ensure everyone can come and all is planned.
In my family, the funeral was set for 6 ½ weeks after death. Food preparations began a week before and women from the community come together to assist the family in preparing. Relatives began to arrive on Wednesday evening and perhaps a dozen or more came to stay at the home with us. Thursday evening, a dozen more people showed and the first rounds of muskets were shot. Friday morning I had to go attend class so I missed the arrival of more people and the slaughtering of a cow. I arrived at the main road exactly when the body was bringing brought in from the mortuary. When a body is brought back into the community it is similar to that of America when the deceased goes from the funeral home to the burial grounds. Cars of people line up and follow the body in. In this case, the body is brought in an ambulance and the sirens wail as they proceed into town. In addition, cars following honk continuously; all of this is so that people know there is a return of a loved one. Arriving as all were driving into the community, I rode in one of the cars. There were relatives crying uncontrollably and wailing to the point of collapse. In Ghanaian culture, people do not show many emotions let alone cry in the presence of others. A funeral is an exception where people are expected to cry and carry on until exhaustion. I was thinking of this and realize that this is a good way to release emotions that are built up in life.
Upon arriving to the house, the body is carried into a decorated room so that others may clean and dress her. Throughout this entire time a band of drummers and trumpets and one trombone play. After the body enters the room, family gathers and sits under a tent and then we proceeded to take a shot of gin to pay respect to the deceased. Next, closer family, numbering over 30, moved to the main house where we sat and began preparing dinner to eat. This time is now spent talking and mourning together. Back at the house of the body, loud speakers blare music all night until the sun rises upon the house. People are expected to stay up late into the evening, if not all night, to mourn. Some women use this night to prepare food for the following day as they would be unable to feed the hundreds of people in attendance if cooking in the same day.
Preparation continues the following morning as more people arrive by the trotro load. Hundreds of people are expected to attend and over 200 people did attend. Celebrations are currently going on as I type but I have been excused for awhile to attend to some work. My family had a dress made for me in the mourning fabric (When someone dies the family picks a pattern for cloth for dresses and shirts to be made to be worn on funeral day. Usually colors are black and white or black and red….depends on age and status of deceased). In addition to wearing the dress I am also a part of the chief mourners who take part in the service.
Originally I was to read the biography of the deceased but the only daughter of the woman became ill last night and was admitted to the hospital (found later that it was malaria-she is doing better and is now at our house resting). With the daughter sick, I was asked to read the tribute to the mother on behalf of the daughter. It was an honor to take part in such a close aspect of the funeral service and I managed all I could to act and behave accordingly.
The funeral played two parts, first the burial service and then the grave side. The burial service includes prayers, a church service, scripture readings, songs, tributes read by various relatives’, and mourner processions. The deceased was a trade woman in Ashaiman and a dozen of her fellow trade women came and did a mourning procession. The second part was where the body was taken to the cemetery on the outside of town and buried. More prayers and hymns were done along with laying of the Wreaths which many brought. After the completion everyone came to our house and each person got a container of rice with sauce and a piece of meat and a soda-pop. After everyone finishes eating, which they are doing now, people will dance and celebrate.
Hope I was able to capture everything well.