For those left behind, death is never an easy part of life. Regardless of age, background or nationality, the process of having to say goodbye to a loved one will always be a fraught and difficult time. Nowhere more so, arguably, than the act of burying the deceased – having to pick out a coffin to entomb their body for the rest of eternity, and watch as it enters the ground at the funeral.
Well, not everyone takes such a negative attitude towards death. In Ghana, West Africa, a tribe called Ga has become known for its fantasy coffins: colourful, eye-catching and definitely one-of-a-kind. Believing that funerals are a time for celebration as well as mourning, Ghanaians honour their loved ones by burying them in as vibrant a manner as possible.
The coffins are beautifully made, and families spare no expense in making sure that they are made to the very highest quality – the average fantasy coffin takes hour upon painstaking hour to make, and it’s not unusual that the body lies in the morgue for up to three weeks until it’s finished.
Admittedly, on initial glance the appearance of the coffins may appear to be too strange to take seriously – why would anyone want to be buried in a giant catfish, for example? In fact, the coffins are designed to reflect a significant aspect of the deceased’s life; so someone buried in a fish might be a fisherman, or someone in power, like a king or ruler, might have a leopard motif. Similarly, a person who enjoyed Coca-Cola in life may well be buried in a Coca-Cola bottle coffin in death, while another who loved expensive cars might be given one to look like a Mercedes-Benz.
Makes sense – though I can’t help but wonder what some of the First World fantasy coffin incarnations might look like. An Excel spreadsheet, perhaps? Or maybe an iPad? The image of a giant Starbucks latte cup being lowered into the ground would certainly be something to see.
There has been some backlash against Ghanaian fantasy coffins, not least by a number of Christian groups, who argue that the colourful themed designs are too gaudy, and ultimately disrespectful to the dead. However, Ablade Glover, one of the artists who works with the Ga carpenters, claims that coffins are essentially a home for loved ones in the next life, so they should be made to be as beautiful as possible.
Though we’re used to much more conservative coffin designs here in the UK (you have a choice of brown, black or white, madam), it’s possible to see the logic in this way of thinking. After all, everyone has to die, so why not go out with a bang? I'm getting my order in now for a bespoke Skittles packet design as we speak.
You can see more Ghanaian fantasy coffin designs here.