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Opinions of Sunday, 16 April 2006

Columnist: Kutsoati, Edward

Of funerals and video-recording: long live the dead!

Let me begin with a simple confession. My purpose of writing this short article is to solicit answers to the following question: Why do we video-record most funerals in Ghana? But before you provide an answer, allow me to narrate a story, then provide my own assessment. I also have to say that I have tried to rationalize this activity as best as I can, but they just don?t add up. Simply, I don?t find it to be growth-enhacing.

Two years ago, we lost a dearest member of my family. As many of us do, I arranged to be in Ghana so I can (a) help the family with the funeral arrangements, and more importantly, (b) be with the family in a time of grief. I thought we all can better deal with the loss if we mourn together and assure each other that ?all will be fine.? There is some great consolation in this act. So I bought the plane ticket and flew out of Boston to Accra.

At one of the funeral-planning meetings, I was introduced to Yaw Amponsah, the video guy. ?Yaw does a beautiful job. He records all of our church events, and will be able to get the video ready before you head back to the US. Plus, the price is competitive.? That was my uncle. Immediately, two questions came to my mind. ?Why do we need to record the funeral, and why does it matter whether he gets it ready before or after my return trip?? I asked. The response was prompt: ?Well, everyone does it, and it is good to record it. Also it is for you. You will need the video for the funeral in the U.S., and that is why Yaw will be sure to get it ready before you leave.? O.K. I had one more question: ?Are we going to roll the video recording bill from the general funeral budget?? They all looked at me, like I just dropped onto earth, and then they looked at each other and all nodded in unison: Affirmative.

Sounds good. I scratched my scalp (I had just come from the barber. He gave me the ?all fall down hair-cut,? you know, sakoraa), then began the analysis.

For starters, I told them, there will be no funeral when I get back to Boston. Second, and this is the crux of the issue, we lost our loved one 3 weeks ago. We have been sad and grieving since then, and we will be grieving for a few more days after the burial. Then, it will be time to heal, pick up the pieces, focus on the children and move on. So why on earth, will anyone one of us pop a video into the VCR, play the whole thing all over, bring themselves to a sorry state, and begin the healing process all over again? I don?t get it, I need answers. Research in psychology have shown that the state of the mind (in particular, being happy) leads to economic success. So why do we want to do just the opposite of what creates success?

By then I knew I was treading on dangerous grounds, but I was determined to shift the video-recording costs out of the general budget (because, guess who may have to pay for it?). So I proposed the following solution. Since I have no plans of arranging a funeral in Boston, and such a video tape in my possession is bound to make me sad each time I watch it, I personally do not need Yaw Amponsah?s services. However, I also appreciate the fact that there are some of us who don?t mind going through this cycle of sorrow/grief/healing, and repeat. And I don?t want to deny them that privilege. But I consider such a privilege a private good, which should be paid by only those who will derive utility from its consumption. So here is the deal: those who want to have a video of the funeral proceeding must get-together as a private club, negotiate with Yaw Amponsah, and split the costs among themselves. That way, each can have a personal copy of the video and the general budget will be free of the costs.

Jaws dropped. I looked at my aunt, and I can almost read her thoughts: ?What the ?f-word?is he talking about?? Bottom line is, everyone wanted a video, no one wanted to pay, and so Yaw Amponsah had no job. I acknowledge the funeral industry is one of the fastest growing in Ghana these days, and my decision will mean less income for Yaw Amponsah. But I also see the tension between resources that are devoted to the after-life as opposed to the current life. If we care so much for the dead, and want the best of funerals for the dead, then we should also be recognize that this will mean less resources for the current life, this life. That means a trade-off between an elaborate funeral and a new school uniform for my little sister, Esi. So I decided not to support Yaw?s business that day; instead I asked that the savings be spent on a textbook for Esi. I am hoping with this kind of support, Esi completes here JSS, and SSS, and then college. I hope someday she will have a profession that adds better value to the economy.

Sadly, I am still dealing with the consequences of my decision. It?s been about two years now, and I have yet to be forgiven for my ?stupid? proposal.

Edward Kutsoati
Medford, MA


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