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4 June 2019 / leggypeggy

Unusual coffins are common in Ghana

Plane coffin

An airplane coffin in 2009 (cows in the background)

Plane coffin

An airplane coffin in progress in 2019

One of the first posts I wrote regarding our travels this year in Africa was about a meal we had in the Ghanaian town of Teshie.

But food is not the main reason a person heads to Teshie. Nope. It’s the elaborately carved and hand-painted coffins that draw people from all over Ghana, in fact from all over the world, to this town. Some want to buy these ‘fantasy’ coffins and others just want to see them.

Back in 2009, we made a special trip to Teshie just to visit the workshops. But once is never enough for a place like this, so three of us (Poor John, me and fellow traveller, Dee) grabbed a taxi and headed east from Accra.

Coffin showroom, Ghana

Coffin showroom from the street, 2009

Coffin showroom, Ghana

Entrance to coffin showroom

It was amazing to discover how little some things change. The main workshop is in the same place and looks much the same as it did 10 years ago. Just like in 2009, we were told it was okay to go round the back and up the stairs to the showroom, so off we went. I was surprised to see a child-size fish coffin that had been there on our first visit. Maybe it’s a new one but, judging from the weathering, I reckon it’s been kept for display. Each coffin is made to order.

The custom seems to have started sometime between the mid-1940s and the mid-1950s, and reflects a local attitude to the afterlife. The Ga people, an ethic group in Ghana and Togo, believe death is not the end and that life continues in the next world in the same way it did on earth. So the right send-off is important. (As an aside, West Africans spend a fortune on funerals. I saw banks with signs offering loans for homes, cars, education and funerals.)

The Western world was first introduced to these masterpieces at an exhibit in 1989 in Paris at the National Museum of Modern Art (Musée National d’Art Moderne).

A coffin usually depicts the deceased person’s profession, hobby or passion. Sometimes it indicates their status in the community.

In addition to the little fish we saw back in 2009, we saw an airplane for a pilot, a cow for a farmer, a pencil for a teacher and many more. This time we saw a flour bag, a vegetable, a camera, a truck, a spider and an eagle. Some were complete, some were in progress and some were ancient.

There was also a gorilla’s hand, but this wasn’t a coffin. It was a ‘throne’ made for a village chief. If I understood correctly, the chief was carried in it for a parade.

By the way, we saw a few more coffin-making shops on the side of the road as we drove through West Africa. Not sure which country, but I’ll try to let you know.

Gorilla hand

A throne for a village chief

65 Comments

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  1. gigglingfattie / Jun 4 2019 11:10 pm

    How very strange, but I’m totally on board! I think that’s such an interesting way to remember the deceased!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. fragglerocking / Jun 5 2019 12:49 am

    How brillliant is that! I would have to have a camera shaped one!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 5 2019 7:50 am

      I just wrote that I’d go as a pencil, but a camera is probably more appropriate.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. beetleypete / Jun 5 2019 12:49 am

    I have seen this on a TV documentary. I think it is just great! I would love to have a coffin in the shape of a 1980s London ambulance. 🙂 Unfortunately, they won’t fit into the furnace in the local crematorium!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 5 2019 7:51 am

      Maybe a carpenter could do a scaled-down version.

      Like

  4. Interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Brian Lageose / Jun 5 2019 4:02 am

    It would be hard for me to decide on a final choice, but I would certainly enjoy the selection process…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. macalder02 / Jun 5 2019 4:57 am

    Your creativity is very significant. These thematic coffins draw attention for the variety of their forms. The burials should be equally curious and eye-catching. An unforgettable experience in your long walk through Africa. Greetings.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / Jun 5 2019 5:02 am

    Such a different approach to death than in the West – seems more accepting, even joyous. Fascinating as folk art but I wonder if they appreciate their culture reduced to this idea.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 5 2019 11:24 am

      It is a very different approach to death. The Ga people also believe that their ancestors have great influence over the living.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. lulu / Jun 5 2019 5:22 am

    Thanks for introducing me to something new.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Phil Huston / Jun 5 2019 6:26 am

    I’m all about the chili pepper. Not too sure about the chicken, and throne made me think of another throne where the thought of the hand creeped me out. Like the old bad joke about why you don’t put Mr. Clean in the toilet. And is that a coffin or a real refrigerator in front of the building?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Vicki / Jun 5 2019 10:03 am

    What an interesting custom. I’m so glad you were able to visit and share this unusual ‘send-off’ to the afterlife.

    (BTW I wonder if they could make my coffin in the shape of a camera :). )

    Liked by 2 people

  11. June Lorraine Roberts / Jun 5 2019 10:36 am

    Fascinating…and kinda nice

    Liked by 2 people

  12. CarolCooks2 / Jun 5 2019 11:43 am

    What fun..My chosen method is to go up in a firework…Party time is my instruction 🙂 x

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Sy S. / Jun 5 2019 1:50 pm

    Put me into a huge “Venus Fly ‘Man Eating’ Trap.” And then call it “Seymour” like from in the “Little Shop of Horrors” movie/play. LOL

    Signed,
    Seymour aka Sighing Sy S.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Coral Waight / Jun 5 2019 3:28 pm

    How wonderful! The funeral would definitely be a celebration of the person’s life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 5 2019 6:44 pm

      Definitely a celebration. I might have to do another post about funerals in Africa.

      Like

  15. Emma Cownie / Jun 5 2019 6:16 pm

    These are utterly brilliant! Why don’t we have these in the Western World?

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 5 2019 6:45 pm

      Great point. In Australia it’s now possible to order a customised coffin. I need to investigate further.

      Like

  16. derrickjknight / Jun 5 2019 7:15 pm

    Rather like the ancients leaving artefacts in tombs

    Liked by 2 people

  17. gerard oosterman / Jun 5 2019 8:54 pm

    Yes, coffins and cemeteries have always fascinated me too. There is a good one in Buenos Aires where one could easily camp down for a week or so.
    There is nothing quite like the icy embrace of the dearly departed and the coffins you highlighted in your photos are so life affirming.
    On my first visit (and last) to Costco I noticed lovely coffins for sale on special, right next to car tyres. Do people buy coffins and store them in the garage for the day they might come in handy? The mind boggles.
    Great post, Peggy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 5 2019 9:27 pm

      The mind does boggle. Was your Costco experience in Canberra or elsewhere? Sounds just like the Canberra set up. The cemetery in Buenos Aires is amazing.

      Like

      • gerard oosterman / Jun 6 2019 9:05 am

        The Costco experience was in Sydney’s Auburn. We trawled past frozen lobster-tails, hearing aids, above toilet seats, with hundreds of shoppers pushing giant trolleys groaning with consumables. The coffins looked-mouth wateringly inviting, lined with white lace and even a soft pillow, and made to entice shoppers to pick a hot bargain.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jun 6 2019 2:29 pm

        Canberra isn’t nearly as flash, but it sure has the crowds.

        Like

  18. Invisibly Me / Jun 5 2019 9:15 pm

    A very interesting ‘throne’, and some fascinating coffin designs in general. It’s always painfully sad to see small coffins, like the fish one, though. I do find something very touching about these, the thought and consideration that goes into requesting one, rather than an off-the-shelf option, and the love that goes into custom-making one feels far more befitting for the event to pay tribute to a loved one. x

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jun 5 2019 9:28 pm

      The little coffins are heartbreaking. I was very glad to see the small fish still there. Means it wasn’t used. I agree that the custom versions are so much more honourable.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Alison and Don / Jun 6 2019 12:19 pm

    I love this. Coffins in the developed world are so ordinary. For my mum we bought a plain wooden one, painted it bright yellow and covered it with photos of the family.
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Brian Paul Bach / Jun 7 2019 4:52 am

    Truly unique, spectacular, and delightful! Totally worth the trip itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 7 2019 10:04 am

      So glad we had the chance to visit a second time.

      Like

  21. indianeskitchen / Jun 9 2019 8:33 am

    Definitely different..lol

    Liked by 1 person

  22. The Year I Touched My Toes / Jun 9 2019 1:58 pm

    Hi Peggy, In the third photo down (of the front of the shop from the road) do you remember what the one on the far right was? The green one with the big eyes? it looks like it might have been a frog, or maybe a fish with goggly eyes?

    My second good laugh for the day reading the post but all the comments also. Classic. Thank you.

    Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 9 2019 4:24 pm

      I’m positive it wasn’t a fish, but it might have been a frog. The original pic is on a computer at home and I’ll check when I’m there.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. The Lockwood Echo / Jun 9 2019 10:27 pm

    I remember seeing an article about these some years ago and was so taken with them, I bookmarked a website thinking it’s how I’d like ‘to go’. Apart from putting the ‘fun’ into funeral, what a beautiful, meaningful way in which to celebrate someone’s life.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Lisa Dorenfest / Jun 14 2019 1:07 am

    Fascinating story and handicraft. Now you’ve got me thinking of what style I want to enjoy my ride into eternity …

    Liked by 1 person

  25. chattykerry / Jun 15 2019 6:12 am

    I thought I wanted to be cremated but a cow coffin sounds so cool! Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 15 2019 8:17 am

      I think you’d have a tough time deciding. You have so many interests.

      Like

  26. Jolandi Steven / Jun 16 2019 3:36 pm

    I’ve always loved these coffins, as they are such a creative way of celebrating someone’s life. How very special that you could manage to visit the town again.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. jeanleesworld / Jun 26 2019 4:56 am

    That gorilla hand is AMAZING! All these creations are. What a lift from sadness to see a loved one placed in a memorial that brings warm smiles to everyone’s faces.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. gallivance.net / Jul 22 2019 10:03 pm

    Wow, Peggy! Talk about going out in style. I lived in Africa but never saw these unique coffins. The whimsy is amazing. Am I correct in assuming these are for underground burials, as opposed to cremation? I’m just catching up on your West African adventures and thoroughly enjoying them. Thanks for taking us to a part of the world many of us long to visit. All the best, Terri

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jul 23 2019 7:27 am

      Yes, the coffins are for underground burial. Pity they are seen so briefly, but still a wonderful tribute to the departed. Happy travels for you too.

      Liked by 1 person

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