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Opinions of Friday, 22 July 2011

Columnist: Appiah, Okofrompa Asantiniba Kwame

Help Stop Expensive Funerals in Ghana

Fellow Ghanaians, the time has come for all of us to collectively acknowledge that the costs of funerals are getting out of hand. The practice of wasting huge sums of money on the dead must STOP. The practice where HUGE sums of money are spent sending off friends and family to the after-life in style must stop. Ghana is a poor country with a lot of citizens living in poverty. We should depart this life as we entered it, low key, low cost, and no drama.

Unfortunately, in Ghana, when it come to celebrating the life of a departed dear one, common sense flies out the window and profligate spending takes over. Spending that can only be described as obscene has come to characterizes our funerals. The most disheartening part is how five star ‘Brokemen’ with permanent holes in their pocket, are transformed into a super rich honorable men in death. Men who must be mourned and buried in style!

I recall with sadness when my grandmother died. The poor old lady fell sick a couple of week prior to her untimely passing. When she fell sick, she was taken to Attibie Hospital. When her condition worsened, she was transferred to Nkawkaw government hospital. Suffice to say she died. However, when she died, her body was transported to Okomfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. The reason for this transfer was that, Okomfo Anokye had the best fridge to preserve her dead body. Finally, an ambulance was hired to convey the body from Okomfo Anokye to the village for burial. Upon getting to the outskirts of the village, the ambulance driver turned on his siren. Come and see! The whole village was thrown into a state of frenzy.

I asked my mum what was the sense in transporting the dead body from Komfo Anokye in an ambulance to the village for burial. But when the old lady was alive, they could not convey the living body to Okomfo Anokye for superior medical care. All she could say was that is what the family wants. In addition, I counted at least five SUVs at the funeral; one of which could have been dispatched to Kumasi to bring in the dead body. To cut a long story short, no-one in the family appeared bothered or concerned by my disgust over the above events. It was as if the family wanted to hasten her death to facilitate the funeral.

Ghanaians love for the dead over the living is reflected in this funny but true incident reported on Ghanaweb. Relatives of a patient at a mental hospital were informed that their relative was dead. They quickly organized themselves to claim the body for a fitting send-off. Imagine their surprise when they got to the hospital to find their kin in perfect health. Apparently, their kin had been abandoned at the mental hospital. The family had refused to come for their fully cured relative despite multiple messages delivered to them by the hospital. However, they responded with speed and alacrity when they thought their relative was dead.

Funerals are supposed to be used to celebrate the life of the departed. It is not a reason to go into debt. It is not a reason to spend over and above what is rationale to please someone who cannot appreciate the occasion. The living is more important than the dead. All our efforts and energies must be focused on the living. If you want to show love and appreciation for a loved one, do it while the person is alive and can appreciate your actions. There are many ways one can honor the memory and legacy of loved ones that does not involve profligate and wanton spending.

I am encouraging all well meaning Ghanaians to set up trusts funds, endowments, or scholarships in the names of their loved ones; especially while they are alive. These funds can be named after the loved one but used to support the living. Instead of waiting for loved ones to die and spend say $10,000 on an expensive funeral, one can use $5000 to set up a scholarship that award $200 a year to five needy students. One can then spend $5000 on a decent funeral when the love one dies. In my opinion, it should even be $8000 for a scholarship and $2000 on a really simple funeral. Before I die someday, I will advice my kids to bury me in the least expensive way possible. If they have to burn my dead body and scatter my ashes over River Opo (sea), or bury me coffin-less, I will care less. After all I will be dead and enjoying my 70 virgins (ala Osama).

What better way to celebrate the life of a loved one than to have a scholarship fund named after him or her that benefits society (the LIVING)? If you buy an expensive coffin you only make the termite angry because they have to eat the hardwood and shiny surfaces. What is the sense in using gold plated coffins when it is going to be dumped 6 feet below? The eating, boozing, carousing and all the tomfoolery that goes on during funerals contribute to the spread of AIDS and out of wedlock children. Let us cut the useless frills out of funerals and give simple decent send-off to loved ones and concentrate on the living. I consider all these extras fat that should be trimmed: Live band, spinners, free flowing booze, kebabs, fried rice, professional mourners, specialized funeral cloths, etc, etc, etc. An endowment can honor the memory of your loved ones in perpetuity.

Next week I will tackle the topic of those whose parents are born, raised, and die in their villages somewhere in Abodom, Abaadaso, Otumi, Etwereso, Mmronam, Etumtummrem, Jwaha, Tuobodom, etc, but when they die funerals are held for them in Bronx, London, Alexandria, Chicago, Berlin, Milan, etc.

Okofrompa Asantiniba Kwame Appiah