Births and weddings in the Ghanaian community are seasonal. But funerals, where if your the type who enjoys dressing up in black, you will find one every week. Especially in Kumasi, the funeral directors make the most money of all the business you can think of. In the next 4 weeks, there are 3 funerals I have to attend. Two are elderly people and one of our younger members of the family who unfortunately died on Thursday. When a young person dies, it is said that it was some type of witchcraft that killed him. Usually some old lady who is minding her own business waiting for the good Lord to tell her that her time is up. If it is an elderly person, well the whole village was expecting it anytime soon, in fact they were wishing it so that they could attend the social function of the week.
Funerals are big business and it is not just a one day affair as it is in the West. If it is a newborn baby, they are buried straight away as it is not seen as such a ‘joyous occasion’, but a young adult and upwards, you have to ‘give thanks’ and it is more of a festival than a mourning.
First there is the ndawɔtwe da which is basically translated into ‘a week to the day’, it occurs one week after the person dies. The family members gather, people donate drinks, a crate of beer or minerals normally coke, where a spokesperson will explain what happened and the funeral day will be set. If it is an elderly person and/or someone who has a lot of relatives abroad, the actual funeral takes place about 40 days after. If it is a younger person, it could be as little as a week.
Attire is black leading up to the actual day. The men usually where a big traditional cloth which goes round them a certain way in which I can’t really describe on this blog (but they do wear shorts underneath). The woman wear Kaba and slit but they also have this special type of cloth which they tie similar to the guys, usually it is the mamefuor (the mama’s) that wear it.
When the funeral time arrives, it usually starts on a Thursday evening. That is when they have the laying in state. On the Friday there is the wake-keeping and then the Saturday is the funeral day. They have the normal church service, the burial. You will get your normal mourners and your professional mourners, yep some people are paid to cry at funerals, while others it appears just came to wail for the fun of it. Big arse crying like you see on the films and you think that they are going to fall inside the coffin. You the person trying to mourn the loved one passing away cannot shed a tear because you are busy being distracted by this woman saying ‘mammie a…..you left me ooo….what do I do now!!!…waaaaaaaaa’. It’s can be a tad too much for a person, especially when you are not used to such customs.
After the burial starts the after burial activities which is often a grand affair and is quite common for the after burial activities to be held in a school park. There is a big marquee put up, with chairs seated in rows. The family members usually sit at the front with other relatives and friends seated behind. When you arrive at the grounds you will hear the sound of the African drum beats (talking drums) and dancers dressed in the local attire dancing adoa. The attire is usually all black or black and red and if it is someone from the royal throne then black and white. Ladies should have their head tied in a duku which is a black headscarf but the younger generation don’t usually bother. You will be then led by a representative and you will go round and greet the family by going around shaking the hands of everyone in the front row one by one. The guys usually give you a strong handshake, some stoosh women will just offer out their hand but will not even look in your face. After the greeting you will go and find a seat. It is customary for you to give a donation to the family as a token of goodwill (well hiring out a school park aint no joke), the linguist will usually stop the drums intermittently to announce the Mr so-and-so has donated this amount and thank the person.
There is then the presentations. There are separate ones from the children, then the in-laws and a few other relatives. A decorated basket with towels, soaps, hankerchiefs, another one is full of drinks, then one with cloth for the relatives that passed away. In modern funerals, this is usually done earlier where there are only the relatives around, but Kumasi funerals, well they don’t do things by half and will do it on the actual funeral day. More talking drums, more dancing, the star beer and other drinks are shared around. When you initially arrive you get water but when most of the people are seated, the drinks arrive and a small package with some small chops (it’s been a long day, you got to put something in the stomach).
In the corner you will find men of all ages, drinking palm wine or the local spirit ‘apeteshie’ (some women too drink, some are more discrete about it than others). The whole ceremony ends around 3ish, there may be a DJ playing music for a small boogie afterwards but by 6ish people are leaving to go home, but the hardcore will stay out until a bit late. Or go off to a bar (still in their black) or maybe pass by Vienna City for a shandy and a burger or Keravi night club for a boogie.
On Sunday, the family dons on their black and white print for the thanksgiving service and a small reception afterwards, this doesn’t last as long as the day before, as Monday is a working day and some have far to travel.
But, it doesn’t end their. If it is a family member of someone who lives abroad there is one more to go. Once they get back to their respective countries, it is the norm to hire out a hall and well-wishers who couldn’t make it to Ghana have the opportunity to pay their last respects. Basically you hire out a hall, get a DJ and drinks and it turns into a mini rave. The well wishers get a chance to donate also (well, a man’s got to recoup the money he spent on his ticket and funeral expenses). It usually starts at 6pm but people don’t get there until 8pm going even though most halls only function until 11 or 12. That’s when you bribe the caretaker with free booze to until 12 or 1. That usually does the trick.
Now I’m not saying it is a money making business, but if your fortunate enough to have good friends you will not do to badly out of it. This is the reason why you will find some people are out every week for a funeral even if he is double booked, he will put his black cloth in the boot so he can quickly change.
Because if you don’t go to theirs, when it reaches your turn, nobody will come to yours.