Saturday, Dec 15, 2018

Buried in a chilli pepper

Buried in a chilli pepper
26 Nov
2018

Ghanaians take great pride in making coffins that reflect the life, dreams, passions and status of the dead.

Loved ones believe the dead should get the best possible send-off, with funerals being elaborate affairs.

Journalists Fellipe Abreu and Henrique Hedler visited two Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshops, in the capital Accra and the southern city of Kumasi, to meet the carpenters making custom-made coffins.

The shops are named after Seth Kane Kwei, who some say first designed fantasy coffins in Ghana.

With Ghana being one of the world's largest cocoa producers, families in rural areas collect and save their hard-earned money to bury the deceased in custom-made cocoa pods.

Coffins like this can cost up to $1,000 - a huge amount for the farmers, most of whom earn less than $3 a day.

Generally, the coffin designs reflect the occupation or status of the deceased. In the case of "the chilli pepper carries a symbolic meaning that goes well beyond the life of a farmer", says workshop manager Eric Adjetey, who's been in the business for 50 years.

The red colour and spiciness represents the personality of that person. "He was hot and temperamental, a person you don't want to mess around with."

Coffins in the style of a Mercedes Benz are popular - a huge one is being carved for a wealthy man who owned the German-made car, and his grave will be dug to fit it.

"This is one of the most commonly used coffins. It represents the person's high social status," says coffin maker Steve Ansah.

Most people call the pieces of art fantasy coffins, but they are locally called Abeduu Adekai, which means "proverb boxes".

This is because there is a symbolic meaning behind each design.

Aeroplanes are also among the popular designs. A small one in the workshop is for a child. It symbolizes his successful journey to the afterlife.

Sometimes community members chip in to help with the costs of making a coffin.

In recent years, the real estate sector has boomed in Ghana. A house-shaped coffin is for a landlord who was widely appreciated by his community for building and renting homes to them.

"Generally, it's the responsibility of loved ones and family members to buy the coffin for the deceased. But they also have to pay for the ceremony, including buying food and drink, and clothing for the deceased."

"The ceremony happens from Thursday to Monday. On Thursday the family gets the coffin; on Friday the body is brought from the mortuary; on Saturday the funeral takes places, while on Sunday people go to church. On Monday family members count the money that was invested and donated," Mr Adjetey says.

Carpenters carve the coffin, then sand it to create a uniform surface ready to be painted. A local singer will be buried in a microphone-shaped coffin.

"We don't know the person's size so we ask the family, or even rely on photos," says Mr Ansah, the carpenter.

In recent years, other carpenters have started making custom-made coffins to meet the booming local demand.

Customers in more than 20 countries have bought these coffins over the last decades.

The coffin designs have also attracted interest from woodworking students in South Korea, Russia, US and Denmark, who have come to Ghana to learn the trade.

Local carpenters often use simple handmade tools to sand the wood and carve the wood into a coffin shape.