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01.10.2012 Feature Article

Paying tribute to the dead

How truthful are we?
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Until recently, I never knew that tributes could be paid to the living. I had all along thought that they were paid to the dead only. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines a tribute as “an action, statement or gift that is meant to show one's respect or admiration”. This means that we could give tributes to both the dead and the living.

There is, however, a growing trend these days where some people exaggerate and in some cases tell naked lies when giving tributes, especially to the dead. Such people have forgotten that there are others who know the truth and even know the people that they say all the “sweet” things about better than them.

I believe everybody has ever lost a friend, a father, a mother, a child, a boss, a subordinate or a colleague and for that matter knows how painful such experiences are. I have personally lost close relatives and friends. It took me many years to recover (not fully though) from a shock of losing a very close friend at the university. We resided in the same Hall of Residence. He was my next-door neighbour and we read the same course. We openly discussed and shared our personal problems with each other. In fact, we were more or less brothers. In our final year, when the “going” (the course) became very tough and we were overwhelmed by assignments and class tests, my friend told me “Sammy, don't worry oooh, we shall surely make it”. About two and half weeks to our final examinations, he fell sick and was admitted to the hospital. I visited him everyday and encouraged him. During one of my visits to the hospital (which unfortunately happened to be the last visit), he looked fine and we even cracked jokes. His doctor assured me that he would be discharged the next day. I left him around 6pm for campus. About 12 midnight, the news came that my friend had passed away. In fact words could not describe how confused and traumatized I was. Somebody who always encouraged me to be steadfast and that we would make it could not finish the course. I therefore know how one feels when he/she loses a loved one.

One of the most solemn occasions is funerals. I am told that in the olden days, when somebody died, the relatives of the dead did not even set fire, and by implication cook in the house. They neither wore sandals nor adorn themselves with jewelry and expensive clothes. They denied themselves the things that would make them “comfortable” just to demonstrate how sorrowful they were for the loss.

But what do we see these days? Funerals are being “modernized”. Apart from few relations whom could be seen to be mourning, the rest, who are the majority literary celebrate and enjoy themselves. Of course, culture is dynamic and we could not continue to do things, including the organization of funerals, the way it was done several years ago. But the truth is that funerals are now becoming more or less a joyous occasion instead of a solemn one. These days, funerals have become a competition. Families want to outdo one another with regard to the quality of fabric used, the kind of meals served and which band was hired to entertain mourners. As for the social vices that are associated with funerals, especially during wakes, I better keep my mouth shut.

Well, I am not here to evaluate the organization of funerals but to bring our minds back to something very important which we seem to be lacking. - Being Truthful!

Why should we say things which we know are not true about the dead? Is it to please them (the dead)?

I once lived in the same house with a couple in Accra. I am very sorry to say that the man was one of the most irresponsible men I ever came across. He was very selfish and never cared for his children. His children's school fees were paid by Good Samaritans. Meanwhile, he wore very expensive clothes and never missed parties. He had money alright, but he just decided to be wicked. His anthem was that if he looked after his children, it was their mother who would be the beneficiary. His wife literally struggled to feed the children. Worst of all, he abused his wife physically. There was not a single day that he never picked up a quarrel with his wife. He became sick for a long time and finally died.

Of course, as neigbour, I had to attend his funeral. It was during the funeral that I realised how hypocritical and untruthful many of us were. The kind of tributes that “poured in” that day in honour of that wicked, quarrelsome and abusive man set me thinking till today. In fact, for obvious reasons, I have kept the brochure which contained those pack of lies called tributes in my personal archives.

I was shocked to read from the widow that her husband was very loving. Ei! Loving? She had forgotten that we, her neighbours, who on countless occasions intervened and saved her from receiving dirty and undeserved slaps from her husband, were present at the funeral. So who was she lying to? It was the tribute from the children that shocked me most. According to them, their daddy was so caring that he was ready to spend his last pesewa on them, especially on their education. What a lie! Who did not know that their fees were paid by benevolent people? Then a tribute came from the Family, and it was full of LIES! They said they had lost an irreplaceable illustrious son. I personally remember when the man was alive; a family delegation came to see him on some family issues. He chased them out of his room and told them not to count him as one of their relations. It was even rumored that since he came to Accra in the early 1990s he visited his hometown only twice and he never contributed in any way as far as family issues were concerned. Interestingly, he was described by his family as “illustrious”. As usual, tributes came from his church, his friends, his former school mates, in-laws, etc. Of course, who am I to say that those ones also contained lies since I never attended the same church with him, neither was I his school mate nor one of his in-laws.

Please, I should not be misunderstood. I am not in any way suggesting that we should not give tributes to the dead. It is the embellishment with lies and exaggerations that I am not comfortable with. Of course, some people made very positive impacts on individuals and society when they were alive. Such people must be acknowledged accordingly and glowing tributes paid to them for the living to emulate their good examples. Even that, we do not need to wait till the person dies before we do so. We should pay tribute to the person when he/she is alive.

I know we revere the dead but enough of our lies, exaggerations and hypocrisy

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The writer is an archivist

Sammy Dzandu
Sammy Dzandu, © 2012

The author has 15 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: SammyDzandu

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