Death & the Afterworld
The Ga people live along the coast of Ghana, where they engage in fishing, farming, and trading. For the Ga, funerals express a belief that family life extends to the realm of the dead, where ancestral spirits reside. In the last 60 years a new art form has been added to Ga funeral ceremonies – specially carved coffins that represent the lifetime profession of deceased persons. The originator of this innovative tradition was a carpenter, Kane Kwei, who created the first fantasy coffin to honour the death of his uncle. The old man had been a fisherman, and he wished to be buried in a coffin representing his trade so he could arrive in the afterword ready to continue his work. When Kane Kwei’s mother died, to commemorate her fascination with airplanes that flew over her house, he built her an airplane coffin, so she could fly wherever she wished in the next life.
These early fantasy coffins attracted much attention, and Kane Kwei was commissioned by others who wanted to be buried in his personalized creations. When Kane Kwei died in 1992, his skills and reputation were passed on to his son, Ben Kwei, and nephew Paa Joe, who continued the tradition which captivated coffin carvers as far away as Togo. To the outside world, fantasy coffins are witty and original works of art, but to the Ga they are vehicles designed to transport the dead to the afterword in dignity and style.