30.01.2009 Feature Article

When funerals become fun galore

When funerals become fun galore
30.01.2009 LISTEN

Matters Concerning the transition of a relative from the world of the living to the other world where the light never goes dim in the Ghanaian tradition is very delicate to 'talk some'. The concept of Death, as one of the Rites of Passage is accorded all the necessary 'rituals' and 'rights' on earth.

We know that rites in Ghana and for that matter Africa can be very elaborative! The first ceremony of passage is the birth of a child.

The naming ceremony is organized in a grand style to welcome the new 'visitor' into the family, then when the child reaches adulthood another rite of passage needs to be performed.

If the child is a female and comes from the Kroboland for instance, she would have to go through the 'dipo' or 'bragoro' in other parts of Ghana.

If it is a male, circumcision and other bravado acts would have to be performed to show the young man's readiness to become an adult. That period is also the moment of taking one's 'license to kill'.

In all these rites of passage, death, and for that matter funerals, to give a 'befitting' burial to the departed soul has become the most elaborate and expensive among them all; talk about one week celebration, wake-keeping and of course the 'almighty' funeral and final funeral rites.

At a point in time, the level of moral decadence and other social problems that occurred at wakes raised serious concerns to the extent that traditional rulers, opinion leaders and religious groups had to step in to call for the abolishment of such funeral programmes.

There were stories about ladies picking taxis (drops) and just telling the driver, “Please take me to any 'wake-keeping' in town”. It ends up that many of the 'mourners' we see at our wakes are not really mourners but only leeches or 'vultures' who are just hovering around and feeding on the 'carcasses' of the largesse of bereaved families.

Others also used such occasions to 'rendezvous' their 'meat-to-meat' partners while for some, it is a 'vacation' period for them. At the end of the day, expenses incurred at funerals become so overwhelming that there is no corresponding 'revenue' generation to offset any debt.

Later, attention shifted from wake to one week celebration. A person dies and in a week's time the family members gather to mourn the departure and 'loss' of such a person. Posters are pasted while publications are made in the media to announce to the whole world the celebration.

The ostentations around the one week celebration have also started raising some eyebrows, necessitating some chiefs to ban or call for the banning of the one week celebration.

I must say that our traditional values do not frown on all these rites of passage. In fact, the rite of passage is not limited to traditions as most of the religions of the world have rites of passage. Talk about the rite of Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Priesthood and transition to the next world.

The call for the ban of such ostentatious or 'bungalowbii' kind of celebration by chiefs, opinion leaders and religious leaders is not to downplay our tradition.

They are only guiding society from creating social strata that would make life unbearable for the 'shiabii'. If I don't have money or am not well endowed with resources, should I not be able to bury my relative if he or she dies? Of course a very simple and solemn celebration is acceptable.

Another concern about death is the emerging phenomenon of mounting huge billboards in memory of a departed family member.

We all know how expensive billboards are in this country and for one to mount several of them in one's little village as a memorial item, to me, is not a show of wealth but absurdity and obscenity. And I'm sure the departed member of the family would frown on such lavish spending.

It all started around the middle belt of Ghana, and eventually the whole country became engulfed with this billboard craze family tribute. It is sad to say that after spending so much on such funerals the family members go ahead to erect a billboard to 'honour' their departed member.

For me, this is another ground for 'waste' and misapplication of resources at the expense of the general wellbeing of the family. In most families in Ghana, no matter the number of 'bungalowbii', I'm sure, without the slightest doubt, that the number of 'shiabii' in the family would be higher. It can also be said that in every family, poverty is not an alien.

It is therefore common to see some members of the family whose children are struggling to complete school but there is no support for those brilliant children. Some just drop out of school even when an uncle or aunt or cousin has enough to 'eat', 'drink' and extra for 'fun'.

It is against this background that I will want to suggest that the money being 'wasted' and misapplied in organizing funerals and billboards be used in setting up some foundation for the wellbeing of those who do not have.

Some of us started as 'shiabii', struggling to make it in life and by the grace of 'Mawusogbolisa,' we managed to reach where we are today; sometimes through the generosity of non-family members.

Our family members who have the resources do not consider it plausible to help their own kith and kin to climb the social ladder but when it comes to harvest donations in church and funerals, you are sure to get people donating heavily at the expense of the needs of the family members.

We have come a long way and will urge the chiefs and opinion leaders again to take another look at the erection of such huge funeral billboards when the majority of the family members do not have enough to eat.

Remember that a foundation in the name of a departed family member in the form of scholarships, aid to HIV/AIDS victims, poverty alleviation and what have you, will rather immortalize such a departed member than the billboards and expensive funerals.

Let's make funerals as solemn as they should be and leave out the fun.