It might seem morbid, but by far one of my favorite weekend activities in Ghana is funeral crashing.
For those of you wondering what exactly funeral crashing entails, it is the simple act of attending a funeral unannounced, uninvited and without any affiliation or knowledge of the deceased and his or her family.
Now, before you label me crazy, let me fill you in on the extravagant spectacle known as the Ghanaian funeral. Only then will you understand why funerals are the place to be on weekends.
Apart from its cocoa, Ghana distinguishes itself in the world for holding some truly over-the-top funerals.
This weekend I had the chance to attend one in Aburi, a village at the outskirts of the capital. Decked out in a traditional brown and black Ghanaian dress, I accompanied my Rotary host counselor to Alexander Ofei Adarkwa’s funeral.
My host counselor was to pay respects to Mr. Adarkwa on behalf of his family. Whether he personally knew Mr. Adarkwa, I don’t recall. That is not really an issue in Ghana, though, where funerals tend to be a social event open to the general public.
In fact, some people attend funerals just for the party that ensues after the burial. Dressed to impress, many also attend to pick up future boyfriends or girlfriends.
Typically, funerals are three day affairs beginning on Friday. However, before the funeral, family and friends of the deceased spend considerable time hashing out the arrangements.
Depending on the social status of an individual and the economic resources of the extended family, planning can take a matter of months. In some cases, funerals are held six months or even a year after a person has died.
The level of opulence in funerals also varies along socioeconomic lines. The funeral my host counselor and I attended was not overly posh, arguably costing around $2,000. However, this is a considerable sum, especially if one takes into account findings by the Economist indicating that “45% [of Ghanaians] live on less than $1 a day, 79% on less than $2. Yet funerals tend to cost between $2,000 and $3,000.”
According to anthropologist Sjaak van der Geest, “Money measures the quality of the funeral and the family.” Therefore, the more money spent on funerals, the higher the prestige and reputation of a given family.
A significant portion of the money might go towards the coffin, especially if families decide to send off their loved ones in a costumed made coffin representing a particular trait they engaged in or vice they had. For example, some coffins are shaped as Coca-Cola bottles, cigars, taxis, airplanes, fish and even sewing machines.
Other expenses incurred include advertising the funeral. For Mr. Adarkwa’s funeral, posters had been made and all attendees were given a booklet that included a biography of Mr. Adarkwa, hymns and written statements from his family and friends.
Moreover, food and drinks must be provided for guests. This is where the tab can really sky-rocket. At Mr. Adarkwa’s funeral, after his body had been taken to the burial ground, guests planted themselves under shady canopies as their hosts went around distributing food and drinks.
Meanwhile, gospel music blasted in the background. I’m not referring to the eerie music you hear inside European churches that make it seem like you are trapped in a horror thriller. Instead, the music played in Ghanaian funerals is very upbeat sounding and can easily be danced to.
While Ghanaian funerals can be seen as an inefficient allocation of resources and a luxury that often leads to indebtedness, a positive feature of funerals is that they celebrate a person’s life as opposed to mourning that person’s death. It’s like seeing the glass half full instead of half empty.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.