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Ghana Studies v.7 (2004) pp. 137-148. “IN BLESSED MEMORY”: (RE)PRESENTATIONS OF THE LIVES OF THE DEPARTED IN GHANAIAN FUNERAL PROGRAMMES Mansah Prah University of Cape Coast “Even a poor person has a right to bury his or her parents.” (Ewe saying)1 . “Our father is no longer with us; the most important thing now is to give him a befitting burial”. (Quote from “Fire in the Mountain,” a Nigerian film popular in Ghana). Introduction s any visitor to Ghana will quickly observe, funerals constitute an important aspect of social life in the country. They are generally vibrant occasions which offer the student of society great opportunities for observation and study. As Huntington and Metcalfe (1979:2) have written, In all societies, regardless of whether their customs call for festive or restrained behaviour, the issue of death throws into relief the most important cultural values by which people evaluate their experiences. Life becomes transparent against the background of death, and fundamental and cultural issues are revealed. Following this reading of death, one could say then, that the Ghanaian funeral embodies the attitudes that Ghanaians have towards life itself. Steeped in customary and traditional rites and rituals, funeral practices in Ghana are quite dynamic and adaptive. In her study of funeral practices in Asante, de Witte (2001) documents the newer dimensions of funerals brought on by technological innovations: the mortuary, the media – newspapers, radio, television (these are often the media for funeral announcements and obituaries); printing presses and desktop publishing (used for printing funeral programmes and posters) and video films. All these have in one way or the other, been adapted and incorporated into the celebration of funerals. A MANSAH PRAH 138 Since de Witte published her research in 2001 newer practices have found their way into the Ghanaian funeral landscape. T-shirts featuring portraits of the departed have become regular funeral attire; and a very recent trend that has emerged in Kumasi, described by Safo-Kantanka in the newspaper Daily Graphic, (Friday May 20, 2005: 28), is the practice of displaying life size pictures of the departed on billboards. Christianity and Islam have also added much to the performance of funerals, through an infusion of new ideas about the meaning of death and the rites and rituals surrounding it. It may be useful to note that although funerals are expensive, people generally will not spare any cost to provide ‘fitting’ burials for their family members. Funerals have much significance for maintaining the memory of the dead, but they are also very important social events for the living. There has been a lot of discussion in Ghana about the prohibitive costs of funerals and their detrimental effects on the bereaved families. Efforts have been made by the state to curtail the extravagances of funerals, but the excesses continue. This is because the ‘fitting burial’ is not merely a sign of respect for the deceased, but also an indication of the wealth and social standing of his or her family, or the importance of the social circles within which the person moved and worked. The funeral appears to be one financial burden that most people, particularly those in the higher income groups, are prepared to carry. According to many Ghanaian traditions, the funeral was formerly a communal affair for which costs were borne by all. Currently the costs of funerals tend to be borne by family members who are seen as being financially strong. While this paper tends to focus on the unifying and reifying characteristics of funerals, it is important to note that they can also be a source of rancour, division and disunity. This paper will focus on one specific aspect of current Ghanaian funeral practice brought on by technological advancements in printing and the influence of Christianity; the funeral programme.2 Distributed mainly at the funerals of people in the higher income groups (due to the fact that they are the ones who can afford to have them produced), these booklets are important sites of memory, as they provide a rich source of information on the personal lives of the individuals who have passed. The funeral programme represents a space in the celebration of the funeral, within...


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pp. 137-148
Launched on MUSE
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