Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Fantasy Coffins in Ghana | Designing our own caskets

Fantasy coffin on display in art gallery
Photo Credit: Sharen
The above hen isn't your average gigantic wooden hen - it's a casket, also known as a fantasy coffin from Ghana. 

These colorful coffins have become a custom in Southern Ghana since the early 1950s with the Ga ethnic group. It is said that a fisherman wanted to take with him into the afterlife that which had sustained him and ordered a coffin shaped as a fish for his burial. This quickly became popular in Accra.

The Ga believe that death is a transition into the world of ancestors. Ancestors are believed to have a very powerful influence on the life of their living relatives, and therefore it is considered of utmost importance to honor them. For some this begins with a personalized coffin. These caskets are only meant to be seen on the day of the burial, when it is buried with the dead.


Fish casket
Photo credit: John Nash
These elaborate coffins are meant to symbolize the life of the deceased. This representation is often based on occupation: for example, a fisherman would be buried in a boat or a fish; a professor in a fountain pen; a farmer in an onion, a pepper, an ear of corn; a carpenter in a hammer. They may also be representative of the deceased's aspirations (a plane or luxury car) or of their habits and vices (beer bottle, cigarette). Animals are often used to represent their clan totems (lion, crab) whereas others have specific symbolism: a hen represents a mother; an eagle represents a chief.

Bottle casket in construction
Photo credit: Radio Nederland Wereldomroep
Completed Coca Cola bottle casket - habit? Vice?
Photo credit: John Nash
These coffins are made with basic tools and incredible craftsmanship. Internationally they are considered works of art, and have been displayed in museums and art galleries around world.

You can view more fantasy coffins here - which one was the most surprising to you?

Cow, plane, and cocoa pod
Photo credit: Bookbird
Despite the niggling feeling that it was a bit morbid, I had the girls design their own fantasy caskets :) When your inspiration comes from giant colorful fish and hens, it can't be that morbid, right? The girls thought for quite some time as to what would somehow represent them, and then hid themselves to draw their caskets. It was rather interesting what they came up with! I think these will be quite fun to look back on when they're older.

Elle's design - she is all about accessorizing, and the amount of nail polish she owns is shocking. Seems a rather fitting design :)
Pea's design is.. half lynx, half mermaid (not fish, she was adamant about that). Even she had a hard time conveying what it represents, but I'd say her vivid imagination :)
What would your casket represent? 

10 comments:

  1. How completely fascinating! Who chooses the coffin design? I wondered if it would be the deceased before they die - but in that case, who would choose to represent a vice?! I love the girls' designs. Especially Elle's annotation. :-) Have a lovely weekend!

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    1. From what I gathered, it seems some people have coffins commissioned ahead of time, or the design chosen long before... they're needed - and other times, its the living relatives that choose to gain favor from their ancestors - so I don't know when vice would come up! Good question!

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  2. What an interesting project! It is a different custom, for sure.

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    1. Very different, though I always enjoy reading about customs where the importance is placed on celebrating the life lived.

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  3. Whaaaaaat???????? That's the fun part of different cultures, I never would have thought someone would have a whole fantasy coffin culture.

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    1. Lol! Indeed! They remind me of Nova Scotian folk art - on a rather bigger scale :)

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  4. Ha! This is so cool! I love both designs and I'm sure each reflects the girls' personalities! I think mine would have to be a book with a leather exterior. Classy, old with much wisdom to be found within! Either that or a chocolate bar with the words 'she died happy'!!

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    1. Haha, is chocolate your vice? I was thinking mine would be a book as well, though unlikely classy and not much wisdom!

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  5. Love your site. Love this post. Also Pea? That's my daughter's nickname!

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    1. Thanks Cordelia! When she was much younger, I often called her sweet pea, but she's been embarrassed by that for years now :) Pea is only (and just barely) acceptable on the blog.

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