Feature Article of Saturday, 20 October 2007
Columnist: Appiah Kusi Adomako
It is almost universally acknowledged that Ghanaians adore the dead and will commit so much to performing expensive and flamboyant funeral rites. This practice is as old as the earliest history books and contemporary as the morning newspapers. The dimension which contemporary Ghanaian funerals have assumed over the last decade gives a great cause for concern if not worry. Whilst in other parts of the world people are busily working hard sometimes 7 days in a week, we in Ghana spend time on the non-essentials- celebrating one week celebrations, final funeral rites, forty day celebration of the dead. Surprisingly, our politicians, from the President in the Castle to the Unit Committee Chairman in Kwadaso where I grew up, every politician attend a funeral almost every weekend. Consciously or unconsciously, we seem to measure the efficiency of a minister or Member of Parliament by the number of funerals he attends every weekend!
As a developing country which has some developmental challenges to surmount, it would seem to be a misplacement of our priorities to commit so much of our time and money on the dead. I am not trying to say that we should not organise decent funeral rites for our deceased. I believe that befitting funeral rites for our beloved departed has its place in society, but without necessarily having to be extravagant. Perhaps, someone will ask: what is befitting funeral rite or decent funeral celebration. The answer to these questions is relative depending on one’s financial and social background. One thing however is that one does not need to be a PhD holder in Economics to say whether a funeral is extravagant and over the top.
This debate has entered the floor of parliament for discussion. Although parliament, by their authority cannot stamp out the excesses associated with funerals, it is still important the law makers and the National House of Chiefs come take the lead in generating guidelines that could guide the manner of organising of such funeral celebrations.
In a debate on the floor of Parliament, the Minority Leader, Alban Bagbin, is reported to have said that ‘we are investing in the dead rather than the living through expensive funerals and that is bad’. He added that the dead should be given decent and not expensive burials knowing very well that whatever was done to the dead it was destined for the grave. On the same issue, Hon Alfred Agbesi, MP for Ashiaman, who revealed that he had bought 13 pieces of mourning cloths in one year, called for the introduction of one cloth for all funerals. He argued among other things that, “after spending on expensive cloths, coffins and keeping the corpse in expensive morgues, the widow and children are left with nothing and are expected to fend for themselves.”
I do not want to sound too removed from the issues and avoid the prevailing push and pull factors that cause people to commit all resources to burying the dead. We need to understand the psychological and sociological orientations of the bereaved or the culture of the people. We cannot also take away our cultural elements out when discussing this issue.
In the past when family members lived in different parts of the world, it took a very long time to inform every family member in the event of a death in a family. This was a reason for keeping dead bodies in the mortuary for weeks or months. With the introduction of good communication systems, is there still a need to keep bodies in the morgue indefinitely?
Quite recently a friend forwarded an article which appeared in the New York Times to me. In effect the writer was saying that we commit so much to funerals to the extent that some take loans for funerals just to give an impression of affluence whilst leaving bereaved families with mountains of debt. Ghana was cited as a classical example. The writer even wondered whether funeral rites were times for mourning or rejoicing.
Today in some parts of the country, funeral rites have become a festive occasion. No wonder “funeral contractors” have sprung up all over the place for example in Kumasi, considered the funeral capital of Ghana. In most parts of Ghana, funerals are now accompanied by big feasting and even buffet dinners.
Opanin Kwabena Mensah from Kumasi talks about the infusion of foreign capital into funeral celebrations in Ghana appropriately dubbed as Abrokyirefuo Ayie. For such people, funerals present an opportunity to show that the are been. Some buy expensive imported caskets for the dead even if the dead may have been neglected when they were still alive. Sometimes the abrokyirefuo may demand that the body be kept in the morgue for extended periods. Other areas of expenditure during funerals include the costs of construction of a new family house or rehabilitating old ones, airfares and other items that the Aburokyirefuo bring along. Why would anybody seek to curtail the transfer of such resources into the economy, which cost the government next to nothing?
We must take a cue from the words of the immediate past Director-General, of the Ghana Health Service, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa, that Ghanaians pay attention to healthy living and give priority to our health instead of spending all our resources on expensive funerals.
In my view, if even 20% of all the amounts spent on funerals were used to set up an EDUCATIONAL TRUST FUND for the families involved, I believe that we can rid our streets of the dog chain sellers and school dropouts.