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Feature Article of Monday, 7 May 2012

Columnist: Cudjoe, Kizito

The multi million funeral industry in Kumasi

By Kizito CUDJOE, Kumasi

Celebrating the life of the dead has been an integral part of our rich Ghanaian culture; it’s a period where the dead is laid in state in many instances for family and friends, and the community members to pay their last respect to bid the departed soul farewell to the world of the unknown. This is followed by a gathering of family and friends as well as some sympathizers. The practice is as old as the earliest history books and contemporary as the morning newspapers, and varies among the various ethnic groupings of the country; but notable among them all is the manner in which the Akans mourn their dead.

The Ashantis, one of the elite tribes among the Akan ethnic group, have gained popularity over time for investing so much money to perform expensive and ostentatious funeral rites. Funeral celebrations to remember the legacy or the life of deceased persons have now migrated from being a simple family gathering with some few sympathizers to mourn the dead into almost a profit-making venture of it own. Weekends in the Ashanti capital, Kumasi, has virtually been turned into a festive occasion as any formal activity comes to a standstill to make way for funeral celebrations in almost every community. This is even minus the pomp and pageantry which surrounds the one week observations after the passing away of the deceased person, usually held prior to the grand finale.
After having committed so much money to keep the corpse in the morgue for so long a period to enable all relations and friends to be adequately informed, the tone is now set for permanent and ad hoc funeral committees to begin rapturous preparations for the final funeral rites. Among the several demands on family and relations to meet, funeral fees are levied on every household within the ‘’ebusiafuo’’, about two or more different types of funeral clothes are prescribed to be purchased for use by the powers that be come the day of funeral. It is believed that the levies go into the organization of the funeral rites, but varies among the various clans.
Relative to collections of levies, huge loans are also sourced in some instances to make the funeral committee financially capable to discharge its oversight duties of the funeral. Booz, both soft and hard liquor, would have to be acquired, canopies and chairs, sound system, hearse services to convey the body from the morgue to the family house or where the body would be laid in state and church grounds and finally to the cemetery would have to be arranged for and a host other services which may be required to make the occasion memorable are all provisioned for. The use of local or imported casket is a major matter for debate between family head and perhaps children of the deceased person. But trust my honest judgment that no cheap casket would be purchased for the burial of the deceased person especially when he/she has children or relations living abroad.
What happens on the day of funeral should be a subject for another discussion as we can all guess what would transpire after havin gone through all these preparations. On the day of the funeral event, several roads are blocked with or without permission of the city authorities. Indigenous city dwellers and their rural counterparts who are on list of sympathizers to grace the occasion go through lots of hustle to either attend to all funeral invitations or make sure they are seen by their invitees some through their wailings or widows might contributions to the bereaved family.
The reality of all these is that so much financial investments are significantly being made into burial ceremonies much to the expense of the living. What should have been a solemn moment to reflect on the life of the departed soul have turned into the main public social event and an avenue where families compete for prestige and respect by showing off wealth, which significantly alters the way death has been celebrated in the past. The glamour and euphoria which now characterizes the hitherto moments of grief in times of mourning has raised lots of questions about the rationale behind funeral celebrations lately in Kumasi as the situation creates contrasting atmosphere of sadness mixed with joy. Because of the financial gains that some people receive after having organized funerals, self-styled funeral contractors are now and then seen almost at every funeral grounds wanting to cash in some areas where their expertise might be required. Ironically enough, society is gradually accepting the operations of these people who some people label as ‘professional mourners’.
Regardless however, great cautious needs to be exercised not to undermine funeral celebration, which is seen as part of the traditional transitional rites among the Akan ethnic group. But it is worth also to note, that this fast growing trend and raving phenomenon in the Ghanaian funeral celebrations has been a major cause of concern to a great number of well meaning Ghanaians both home and abroad.
In recent times, lots of discussions have been generated on the dimension which contemporary Ghanaian funerals have assumed over the last decade; chief among them took place on the floor of Parliament with many of our law-makers leading the calls for the Ghanaian Legislative body and the National House of Chiefs to adopt some standards to curb what many call spendthrift spending on the dead to the neglect of the living.
As a developing nation with so many developmental deficits to address, it is clearly a misplaced priority to commit so much of our time, energy and resources on the dead.

What makes the discussions on the dimension on funeral lately so interesting at a point is that, the huge financial commitment into funeral organization is not only peculiar to the doors of Ghanaians but has some international correlation as well. A survey in 2007 from the National Association of Funeral Directors (which represents firms that organize about 85% of UK funerals, that is about 470,000 every year) found that charges by local authorities for cremation and burial have escalated by up to 48% since 2007, far outstripping the rate of inflation. The fees funeral directors were said to charge for typical funeral now average 1,515 up 3.25% since 2007.
However, in our case the government does not in any way even support ‘cash trapped families’ to organize burial ceremonies unlike what pertains in the developed nations yet the so called cash trapped families even fall foul to the ‘show fever’ seeking to cash in on their breakthrough on donations by sympathizers.
Mr. Emmanuel Osei, Manager of Owner Service, one of the leading service providers for outdoor ceremonies, reveals in an interview that the class of dead people now determines what goes into the funeral celebrations in Kumasi. He asserts that given a situation where the dead person has about two or more relatives or children living abroad, most obviously foreign coffin and other high value materials and services would be acquired to organize the funeral of such a person.
So, the question I ask is, should we cry over spilt milk and turn a blind eye against developing issues as well as family individuals’ progress and invest in the dead whose destiny can only be determined in the spirit realm? Your guess is as good as mine.

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