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Opinions of Sunday, 31 July 2011

Columnist: Appiah, Okofrompa Asantiniba Kwame

Funerals Abroad: The Latest Craze by Funeral-Crazy Ghanaians

Ghanaians have taken their love for funerals to new heights. The latest trend is to organize funerals abroad for loved ones who did not live nor die abroad. Most of the time, the funerals abroad are in addition to burial, wake-keeping, and funerals already held in Ghana.

Imagine this: Kofi Nsiah has lived all his wretched life in Gyadam. Paa Kofi has 12 children by 4 different women. His only claim to fame is that one of his 12 children managed to travel abroad; specifically to Alexandria, Virginia, USA. Paa Kofi never set foot in America. Nope! He never even made it as far as Kotoka International Airport. He has no clue how his son got to America. But six months after Paa Kofi has passed away and been buried in style in Gyadam, a grand funeral is held in Alexandria, VA. A funeral for the same Paa Kofi Nsiah who never glimpsed Kotoka International airport in his lifetime is held in Alexandria, Virginia.

The new ‘bug’ by Ghanaians abroad has affected Paa Kofi. This practice involves organizing funerals of loved ones abroad. The loved never lived or in most cases never set foot abroad. After the burial and funeral rites have been performed in Ghana, a second one is held abroad. To what purpose, one may ask: Simple, to get funeral contributions from friends abroad. Why abroad? Because the friends and loved ones could not accompany the bereaved to Ghana to bury the dear departed. So they should be given an opportunity to contribute. So why go through the charade of hiring a venue, set it up with accompanying food and drinks. That is one way to ensure that people know you are bereaved. Also, once they have consumed your food and drinks, they will feel obliged to make cash contributions.

One tactic used to make money on such ‘funerals by default’ is to invite friends and relations from across the globe. It is not uncommon for people living in New York to be invited to funerals in London or Hamburg, or Toronto or even Johannesburg. No one is expecting you to travel from Montpellier, France to Chicago in the USA for a ‘default funeral’. Nope. What they are expecting is that if you cannot go, your money can.

I recall an incident where a friend I have not talked to in over 10 years called me out of the blue. After a little chit-chat, I heard some whispering in the background. All I could make out was ‘tell him’, ‘tell him’. In my usual blunt style, I blurted out, ‘tell him what’? Apparently, the husband’s step-mum had passed away in Ghana and they were organizing a funeral for her in New York. My friend finally informed me of the funeral celebrations in NY, including date, place and time. I told her I will think about it. At the end of the conversation, she asked for the telephone numbers of my three sisters and brother scattered around the US. She apparently needed to invite all of them to the funeral of the husband’s step mum.

A few days to the funeral, I called the friend and informed her that I cannot make it from Atlanta to NY for the husband’s step-mum funeral. Her phone was on speakerphone and her husband heard what I said. I heard him remark in the background that “if he cannot come, his money can come”. The absurdity of the situation is that I do not know the husband; had never met him, never saw his picture or anything. But that did not prevent him from having the expectation that if I cannot go to NY for his step mother’s funeral, my money (contribution) cannot go.

I think it is absurd the extent Ghanaians have taken our love for the dead. If a relative dies in Maamobi, bury him or her in Maamobi. End of story. There is nothing wrong with informing your friends that you are bereaved. If they are real friends, they will make donations no matter where the burial and funeral are taking place: Chorkor or Chicago, Malaga or Malata. In my opinion organizing a second funeral is a big waste of time and money, and smacks of extortion and desperation. I love my mum very much but multiple funerals will not bring her back. Neither will it make her happy or sad. If we all refuse to patronize, contribute or attend these ‘default funerals’, it will stop. If your relative lived abroad or died abroad, there is nothing wrong with the community participating in his or her funeral abroad. Otherwise spare everyone the time and effort and spare yourself the expense of a second funeral abroad.

Our whole attitude to funerals needs to change. We invest much more in the dead than is necessary. A decent funeral should not become the ‘kra-be-hwe’ event we have made it to become. Those of us abroad should copy from our hosts abroad. Funerals are a simple straight-forward event that is completed within a week of the passing. The cost ranges from several hundred no frills to expensive over-the-top events. But in all cases, the family selects what fits their budget.

A funeral should be like a Chinese takeout: You pick and choose exactly what you want and pay what you can afford. If cremation is all you can afford, cremate your loved ones. If you can afford only a plywood coffin, go for it. Don’t go for the Mahogany coffin because that is what Kwame Sika used for his father. Don’t compare yourself to Kwame Sika. He could afford it. There is no need to go into debt because of a funeral. Ghanaians who have travelled abroad and been exposed to the simplicity of funerals should lead the way. Unfortunately, we are the ones adding a whole new dimension to it in the form of ‘default funerals’. Let us all take a stand and boycott these default funerals.

Okofrompa Asantiniba Kwame Appiah