From, Voice Of Reason:
“Do you want cremation for your loved one's body? “Hell no…over my dead body!”
Even death offers no solution…If we can't have peace when we die on this earth then what hope should we have in heaven? Now let's talk about the inevitable….
Almost, all Ghanaian immigrants spend a lot of money and time sending the bodies of their dear ones to Ghana for burial, but I wonder if they know that burial places in the homeland is getting scarce and expensive; not to mention the other itemized funeral expenses in Ghana.
With rapid urbanization, increase in population, scarcity of place to live and escalating cut-throat land prices in Ghana, burial places in every town is shrinking at alarming rate and there is no end in sight.
The other contributing factors for the graveyard shortages and scarcity are: The non-allocation of land for new graveyards, encroachments on existing ones, construction of concrete tombs by people who can afford them and a high demand for burial grounds in our cities and towns. The problem is reaching an alarming level. Unless the government and the community leaderships intervene with innovative ideas or provide land for new burial grounds, the issue can't be solved anytime soon.
There are other solutions to this shortage of cemeteries, but they have truck-load of religious, social, as well as economic constraints attached to them….. What is our next choice? We can neither postpone death nor burial..So let's try something unconventional in our culture like cremation.
Cremation is the process of burning a dead body to ashes. It's very common practice among the western world and Asian countries (especially, India) .But would that ever catch up in Ghana? Hell no..... not in a million years!
Given our cultural, religious and other social sensitivity toward death, I'm not naïve as to the uproar this piece will generate across the Atlantic Ocean and home front. I consciously brought this controversial topic up to generate a healthy debate and see life in a different light. Nevertheless, it's not a bad idea to contemplate or digest. After all, death is a matter of certainty; every person will die at some point in time.
However, given our money-hungry society, if we assume for a moment that our traditional burial system has changed in the face of cemetery shortage and we accept cremation as an alternative, then will the people who are entrusted to handle this service (cremation process) give us an honest service? .Let's hope they won't provide us with an animal ashes instead of our loved ones' ashes. Can we tell the difference? Only God can! To get a better service maybe, (just maybe) we will have to stand and watch the horror of the cremation process, which can also traumatize the family of the deceased forever...
This reminds me of a funeral of my best friend's mother; I attended in Worcester, USA, five years ago. His mother died in New Mexico and my friend flew in with his family to bury his mom in Worcester, Mass. I drove three and half hours to meet them there from New Jersey; mindful of the fact that I thought and expected them to fly along with the dead body from New Mexico. I was expecting to see a casket and the whole funeral trimmings as we do back home .Little did I realize how naïve I was. In no time, I found out that was not the case. My rude awakening got me very confused and curious.
To my surprise, my friend went into a trunk of a rented salon car he was driving and produced a small box (urn) that weighed about six pounds.”What's that?” I murmured to myself while I looked on and engulfed with bewilderment and culture- shock .I won't bore you with the detail of the process at the cemetery .Anyway, to make a long story short, he brought the small box to the cemetery for burial. We went through the burial routine with the pastor, friends and family members; which lasted less than thirty minutes.
That got me thinking and wondering…all day long as I drove back to New jersey .The most debate I had with myself on the I-95 highway was whether cremation could be practiced in Ghana; given our religiosity and cultural rigid belief system about death.
There is more to worry about (the cremation process) than our religious beliefs in Ghana. The death of credibility and integrity in Ghana is also going to be a major blockage for such a system to germinate in our part of the world.
From what my friend described to me, his mother's body was picked up by funeral home employees and that was it... He described it loosely as: the body was burned by the company without the presence of any family member. Neither was there any outside supervision during the entire process. Now, you know where the problem will come in if we have a similar system in Ghana.
Given our lack of credibility and our integrity –challenged tendencies the chances of a Ghanaian cremation company not processing your loved one's body, as it was agreed upon will be one-hundred percent. What are the chances of getting the actual ashes of your loved one, if you are not around during the entire process? Now let your own imagination do the thinking for you. This explains why we can't generically import or export ideas, lifestyles or food to Ghana or vice versa.
Speaking of ideas: Why do we spend a lot of time and energy on funerals in Ghana while we could also discuss the need to write wills? The absence of a will can be very problematic. Without a will the formalities can take months or years in courts to sort things out. Some Ghanaians (yours -truly included) are afraid to write wills, fearing it is akin to a death sentence. Tragically, even educated people fail to write wills with unfortunate consequences.
We also have to be honest with the causes of death. If our loved ones died from smoking- related diseases let's say it loud for the living to desist from tobacco smoking. And, instead of blaming the witchcraft or an elderly lady for a young man/woman's death when autopsy tells us it's something different, let's face reality about death and say it like it's.
I hope this is a teachable moment for all of us while we're busy looking for a place to bury our dead. After all, we don't know where we're going….and don't even know why we're here on this troubled planet in the first place. We're uncertain of where the next days or weeks or months may take us but, we should be unfazed by the inevitable so that we can live life to the fullest, with frankness, dignity, and humor.
Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (Voice of Reason)
*The author is a social commentator and the founder of The Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment Foundation for Disadvantaged Youth of Asuom.