I’m now 2 weeks back from my trip to Ghana, a trip that unfortunately wasn’t a vacation but instead, sadly, was to memorialize and celebrate the life of my late father-in-law.
This, my 3rd, trip to Ghana was like no other. Here’s a chunk of what made it so different.
Seeing your husband grieve the loss of his father, who he hadn’t seen in 3 years, makes any and all comfort measures in my repertoire wholly in adequate. Losing a parent is a really big deal. I always knew this but until it happens to you, you don’t fully understand it.
Funeral customs in Ghana, are 1000% different from anything I’ve experienced in the US, and with a large extended family, I’ve been to many funerals. My experiences saying goodbye and attending funerals, have been, in retrospect, quick, staged and ‘overly manicured’ compared to Ghanaian funeral tradition.
Having a memorial/funeral in Ghana is a very involved process. For instance, my brother-in-law Victor, Uncle Archie (Papa’s brother), and cousins Eric and Michael took care of all the logistics, from hiring a hearse, having a coffin made, retrieving Papa at the hospital morgue, etc. Here in the US it’s the funeral home that does all of that. Everywhere the process is emotionally difficult, but in Ghana you can add logistically challenging to the equation. All of these things require a lot of effort. There’s no emailing to see if whatever you need is in stock, there’s no Amazon Prime to deliver it later that day. What there is is a lot driving around a city that has more traffic then anyplace I’ve ever been, even Bombay.
Another big difference is the customary funeral dress. Each day of the funeral, which begins on Friday night with wake keeping, has a different dress code. Days one and two people wear all black, or black and red. Some men where Kente, and women’s outfits are tailored and in the amazing Ghanaian fabrics. It’s a sad occasion but it is a very well dressed one. The Sunday following the funeral is the day of The Thanksgiving service. On this day people where all white, or white and black. The fabric of those wearing black and white often includes traditional Adrinka symbols.
The funeral days for Papa Mallet were of course sad and very emotional, but I’m left feeling like this was the best memorial I’ve ever experienced. Papa was loved by so many. I have a deep respect and regard for how the Ghanaians memorialize their loved ones. Preparing for the memorial is a lot of work and no doubt very exhausting, especially for those who are also mourning their loss. However, convienient funeral planning is here in the US, I think it’s too much so.
I’m guessing that sometime ago funerals in the US, and all over the world, were similar. As our world modernizes and becomes more orderly and packaged, so do life’s most important events and rites of passage. I don’t know exactly when or why things in the US became so ‘impersonal’ by comparison, but I’m guessing that it’s probably a mix of laws governing the funeral process, the business opportunity those provided and people’s desire for convenience. But in that convienicence, I think we’ve lost something very important. We’ve lost the opportunity to participate in our own human rituals, rituals that bind us as families and humans.
There that’s my soapbox.
I did take many photos both days, of all that I described above, but I’m not going to share these, at least not yet. Some time needs to pass and I need to let my mother-in-law, my husband and his brothers see the images I captured of the day. I of course also need their permission.
I will however share some photos of the interesting things and beautiful things and people I was happy to spent time with. The first few images are from my Canon, and below that, from my iPhone (I posted many of these on my Instagram feed while in Ghana.).
As they say in Ghana, Akwaaba! *
*handy translation from the blog ….Una Adventrua Real “You are welcome,” is a common phrase that you say to someone here in English. It is a translation from Twi, an Akan language widely spoken in Accra and around Ghana. “Akwaaba,” therefore literally means that you are welcome to this place.
iPhone (Hipstamatic) images below: