You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2015 05 14Article 358055

Opinions of Thursday, 14 May 2015

Columnist: Antwi-Boasiako, Kwaku

The Great Debate about funerals in Ghana

(The debate below took place on Facebook)

KAB, Ghana: I think asking a congregation to pray for the soul of a dead person is not biblical and a waste of time. So I don't respond when a pastor at a funeral or remembrance service asks for such prayers. And my response is the same when they call for a minute silence and then afterwards say, 'May his soul rest in peace'. Now here's the reason why. If you believe the scriptures, as I hope the pastors do, then the Bible says, "it is appointed unto man to die once, and after that the judgement." It's very clear there. After death, there isn't much that your prayer can do for that soul. So why waste everybody's time asking them to pray? If you have any prayer, do it while the fellow is alive and can do something about his soul and eternity, if he wants to. Anyway, and it's also why I won't go and lay flowers at the cemetery for a dead relative. And I won't waste resources organising massive funerals. If I have anything to give, physical or spiritual, it must be while the person is still alive. And that's why I don't believe a lot of funeral eulogies. They're so polished every one of the dead would be heaven-bound if all those eulogies were true. But I know we don't speak ill of the dead, because after all they can't defend themselves. But it'd be nice if we told people all those nice things about themselves while they were still alive, especially in our political environment. Politicians attack and insult each other and everyone else. But let a prominent one die, and they'll queue to express the most wonderful eulogies about the chap they were insulting only the other day. Who are we deceiving?

FA, Canada: Well this one is not 'weirdo,' you are right I agree. But the only part I am concerned about is the funeral bit. That is not about bible, it's just social norm. The origin of the funeral, which has definitely been overdone recently, was to use that time to get help for the bereaving family. When people come together during the funeral, they console and make contributions for the surviving members especially widows and kids. That was the original idea but now it has become a business venture just like everything else in our society today changing for the worse.

KAB, Ghana: I'm not against organising funerals. I just don't understand why a bereaving family should also have the burden of having to raise funds that they don't have, to organise a funeral simply because that is what has become the norm. I'm sure you'd remember what our mum went through when our father died and all of us were out of the country. There are other examples you may be familiar with. Some people suddenly have to go borrowing to organise funerals, at a time they are grieving. Nowadays, the only thing that distinguishes a funeral from a party is the colour of the clothing people wear at funerals.

WA, USA: Instead of buying life insurance, someone actually told me he is not worried; his children, brothers and sisters will bury him. It's the mentality bro. Meanwhile there's no 'agyapade?' and the kids don't have a job. Preach on.

RSA, Ghana: Hmmmm, it's a pity but we can't change anything now no matter how hard we try.

KAB, Ghana: Yes we can do a lot. Let's say all the people of our generation agree that what's become the norm now is useless and wasteful. Let's each resolve to stand up to our extended family should we have a bereavement in our family (not a wish, but that's the reality of life and it will happen at some point). Within the next 10-15 years, this whole nonsense would fade away. And actually, it just takes one traditional authority to feel the pressure from people like us to stop it in their traditional area! Did you know some traditional authorities have banned 'Wake Keeping', which used to be one of the stupid funeral expenditure items? So there is more we can do if we can mobilize a critical mass of opposition to wasteful, expensive funerals in Ghana. And it starts from voicing out your anger and opposition to it.

FA, Canada: Guys, I am confused. Why do we have to change funerals? If we want to speak against the business aspect, fine, but I think the original concept was great and we shall all benefit from that. Antwi, you are talking about extended family, what about those who don't have extended family, or have no one? People choose the kind of expenditure they want. Antwi, when father died, we didn't buy any expensive casket or elaborate display, and we were able to cover our debts. Look, I think we are getting ahead of ourselves here. We need each other especially during funerals and deaths. If there is anything to change, let's try to change those who are making funeral as business but to take away funerals will be social disaster and uncomfortable for the society. That is my thought.

KAB, Ghana: I don't think you've fully appreciated my point. And may be you might want to ask Maame again what she went through. And read Osei Kofi's post too. What is funeral? Does it mean the Ghanaian Muslims don't have a funeral for their dead, just because they make it simple and finish it out within 24 hours? Those who insist on the elaborate funerals are often not the immediate bereaved widows, nor other sons, daughters or close relatives. Those individuals are often so much in grief the last thing they wish for is an elaborate funeral. For those actually grieving, they need the body buried quickly so they can go through the healing period, probably surrounded by those who really care about them. Covering one's debt because you can afford it is one thing, how about many families who have to borrow or beg to be able to organise such funerals? And I'm sure you'd remember not too long ago someone we both know was in a similar situation when her mum died. I don't see anything wrong with burying the dead the same day and allowing the immediate family to grieve privately and find closure. For me, anything else beyond the burial is wasteful and needless. And that's where all the commercialization and partying take place.

FA, Canada: Well I have not seen or read Osei's post on this issue here. But I think you are mixing the issue up. Muslims burying the dead same day is different from funeral we are talking about here. When to bury your dead and organising final funeral rites are completely 2 different things. People choose to keep their dead in the morgue for months and years but those are not funeral rites. The actual organisation of funeral rites is what traditionally constitute farewell rite and has fundamentally social benefit, which I want us to focus on not the excess of some people. Life changes; imagine someone you are solely responsible for dies and you are broke. You can't buy coffin, can't pay cemetery fees, nothing. How will you deal with it? This is the system the West could not have and they envy it, the COMMUNAL SYSTEM, where we help each other in time of need. But it appears we are copying their lifestyle blindly. This is the system God intended for us, living together but we are advocating individual for him/her self, God for us all. I'm convinced that organising funeral rites isn't a bad idea and we must help to keep the tradition. Death is for everyone to deal with so we must keep working together.

KAB, Ghana: Probably you still don't get the thrust of my opinion on the subject of funerals. If the funeral (final rites) system is what God intended for us, my question with reference to Muslims is that, are they also not part of us? Should final rites mean organising the type of funerals we see today? Let me give you and other readers a bit of background. When I was growing up, whenever there was bereavement in the family, the family usually declared a period of 'fasting', to show they are grieving and to demonstrate the solemnity of the period. For those who are not Ashantis, the reason I have put fasting in quotes is because what Ashantis meant by fasting then was simply not eating Fufu! As you may know, Fufu is the number 1 staple and delicacy for most Ashantis. To not eat Fufu is often considered as fasting. During bereavement, they would eat every meal you can think of, but they would call it fasting, so long as they didn't eat Fufu. Today, it's all changed. Funerals have become party time! But there is a reason why this is happening. Funerals have changed from observing final rites for the departed to competition about which family is most popular and can command the largest attendance to the funeral of their departed relatives. There were songs composed to encourage people to attend funerals so that when they die, more people will attend their own funerals. Families lost the essence of funerals along the way. The most common conversation you hear after a funeral is about how many people attended it. The consequence is that families are forced to do whatever they have to do to attract more people to their funeral. These include free food and drinks for everybody who shows up, hiring of mourners, sometimes contracting professional event organisers to commercially manage the funeral, and media publicity. Media publicity! Listen to any radio station in the Ashanti region, especially closer to the weekend, and the most you will hear are funeral announcements. Never mind how much the radio stations charge for those announcements, it is intended to generate as many attendants to the funeral as possible. And yes, there are people who have nothing doing on weekends and so make it part of their weekend entertainment to attend funerals of people they have never known and whose funeral they only heard announced on radio! And to back the theme of competitiveness and show-off, such announcements start with mentioning not just the names of the well-to-do in the family but also mentioning especially those family members based overseas - USA, UK, Canada and Germany are always popular. The Joe Block in Ghana who may be the eldest person in the family may only get a mention getting to the bottom of the list. Of course mentioning the 'Burgars' also show to listeners that there is money in the family and so there would be lots of entertainment, for which reason they should attend the funeral. My brother, what has all these got to do with organising final rites for the dead? I have no idea. And I certainly do not subscribe to it. It's frugality that has nothing to do with copying anything from the West. Asking people to buy new funeral cloth when they don't have money to buy food to feed their children and to pay their children's school fees doesn't make sense, to say the least. How does a new piece of cloth contribute to mourning the dead and observing final rites for the departed? I think we should stop this blackmail of accusing people of copying from the West. We do things that hurt our own people and don't help us to develop. Whatever is wrong with the culture of the West, it has helped them to develop. And that counts for something. Borrowing or begging for money to waste on a funeral doesn't advance our culture in any way. It makes us poorer.

WA, USA: Let the congregation say Amen; if you don't get it, something is wrong. When I tell folks here how long we keep the dead they go in shock. What's the point of keeping the dead in that...for? Is it free? I will prefer cremation; you love me that much, keep my ashes at home day two. I can't wake up to help you with anything. Save the money and give it to my children. It's sad indeed.

FA, Canada: I get you brother. We have to stop anything that has excesses not only funeral then, weddings even what's the point of spending money on university? Huge money on your one child you can't guarantee job for, that money could feed a lot. What else in the society has not gotten excesses, tell me? Must we abandon our cultures because others are abusing it? Then we shall be nobody soon. Check other cultures from Philipinos, Asia and other strong cultures whether they have abandoned their cultures because of adulteration. Bottom line is everything in our society has hot some negatives and what we must do is to tell people the right way we should do them not throwing them away. What next are we going abandon, religion? Of course it's causing so much havoc and destruction, others are making business out of it so let's legislate and abandon it altogether, we might be rich without religion won't we? You just talked about how funeral used to be. Why can't we advocate or better still, when you happen to run a funeral, do it the right way for others to learn instead of saying it's useless? We can't continue to discard our way of life for monetary reasons all the time. Those cultural things are not valued in money wise; it's what makes us who we are. There is no question there are so much excesses but we can't throw it away; those who want can continue the excesses and those like me will always adopt the moderation but the culture lives on.

Oh, and we forgot one more. We must stop marrying too; it costs way too much these days. In the past, you take a tuber of yam to your in-laws and you take your wife home; at times, even free. But how much are people paying for dowry today? Lifetime savings. Many people married and their world crashed because their wives divorced them and took everything from them. How many of these incidents have you seen or heard? Well cohabitation must be adopted instead of marriage, waste of money and time. What about that, brother? Another excesses?

KAB, Ghana: I guess it's a question of perspective. If you choose to accept everything you've been handed as your culture without questioning their essence and value to your life, that's your choice. I choose to question everything now, and live by what I find valuable while ignoring what others may cling on to. In times past, it was seen as our culture (way of life) for people to be walking about almost naked. Today, people frown on others who wear skimpy clothing. And yes, I've previously spoken out against expensive weddings. I know somebody who was in a Pentecostal church who was old enough to marry but couldn't afford the kind of wedding the church insisted on. How he was coping would be anyone's guess. I don't have any problem if someone has money and choose to blow it on funerals and weddings and whatever. But I definitely reject any notion that a person must borrow money to organise a funeral because it is our culture. I definitely reject the notion that a person must have a church marriage (wedding) and start their marriage in debt (and I know a couple who had that experience). There is nothing worthy about culture, if it doesn't promote the wellbeing of all citizens. It's strange the kind of examples you cited. I didn't say people shouldn't spend their own money. So what's wrong to spend your money to educate your child? But there's everything wrong if you spend money to organise a funeral while the child left behind by the dead cannot afford to go to school because there's no money to pay school fees, all in the name of culture. After eating and drinking at the funeral, people go back to their homes. And the children and other dependents left behind are left alone to fend for themselves. If you, at your level, can't see anything wrong with such a culture, then I'm afraid we have a bigger challenge than I thought. But hey, opinions are like noses, and everyone has got them. So no problemo!

FA, Canada: Do you really believe, and all those on this platform should let us know this, that if we should abandon funerals all together, our lives will be better than it is now? Do you ?Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako believe that?

WA, USA: Frank, no one said to abandon funerals. It's a total waste of money to keep the corpse for months and years, spend lavishly for the dead when the children are ignored after the dancing and the merry-making is done.

FA, Canada: Winnie, keeping the dead at morgue is not funeral. But I will take your point of not abandoning the funeral rite, which has been my point all along. How people choose to do it is their problem. But the rites must live on. Antwi's initial article appeared to be about abandoning the funeral altogether because it's expensive and that is what I have problem with. Some doing it wrongly do not make the whole rites of passage wrong. If people have their money to waste, they can knock themselves out, and who would not? Maybe we are not being realistic here. Let everyone here on this platform examine ourselves first before we throw first stone to others. What type of cars do we drive? Did we buy those cars with the sole aim of moving from one point to the next or we bought expensive cars because we could afford them? If all of us here in this discussion could buy third-hand cars, we could have saved a lot to support some poor people in our families and in communities. But we are riding in relatively recent cars that cost so much and there is nothing wrong with that. What then is wrong with someone who has his/her money to organise elaborate wedding that will cost GHC100,000? Or spend GHC200,000 to do funeral of their loved ones? This is where my concern has been all this while. This has nothing to do with the culture of funeral rites. Funeral rite was there when Jesus was on earth; he attended few of them too. It will be there till the end of time. How it is organised will be evolving but as long as it's not supported by law how it should be organised, I have no problem with it and I do not see why anyone should advocate for its abolishment because it's too expensive. Expensive to who? If you are invited to a funeral and you don't go, you owe no one nothing just that others will not come to yours. But abolishing funerals or asking everyone to deal with their dead alone will rather bring hardship in the society. When someone dies, the cost has started, place to bury them, those who will dig, carrying the coffin to the cemetery etc. Can one family deal with these alone without the help of the community or friends and others? We need to work together on this and that is how it has to be.

KAB, Ghana: ?Frank Assuming?, at the risk of repeating myself, I don't give a damn if someone has money and wants to spend it on funerals. I, Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako, place no value whatsoever on all that happens after the person is dead. And I definitely have huge issues spending $1 to organise a funeral if children left behind can't be taken care of afterwards. And I resent any situation where poor people have to go round borrowing money or begging for money to organise a funeral. How sensible is it to expect another person to borrow money to organise a funeral? Common, Frank. This is dehumanising. It places more value on the dead than the living! There's is no dignity in begging and borrowing, unless you're doing so to invest in a productive venture to become independent. But doing so to spend on a funeral in order to fulfill a culture? You may choose to be a conformist, I won't. And really, that's the purpose of my post. I will question each cultural practice and decide which one is good for humanity. But I won't just join the bandwagon to please anybody.

And by the way, if you ask the wrong question to the wrong people, you know what to expect...the wrong answer. First, ask our own younger brother ?Cheryshev Osei Gaucho Benedikt, whether after our father had been buried, he would have preferred to be given whatever money was spent organising the funeral or the funeral itself. Ask some other poor Ghanaians if they would rather have a private grieving after burying their dead or go round begging or borrowing to organise a funeral. ?Winnie Adofo is the wrong person to ask, because she can afford to do whatever she wants with her own money.

FA, Canada: Ask your own brother Osei Kofi what he would have done if not for the help of others. Could he have buried his father by himself? The issue you are refusing to address is that, if people stop conducting funeral rites, they will not give that money to the kids, widow or anyone else. If we stop funerals no one's life will benefit from it, so what is the point? Instead, every family will have to take care of their dead and that will create hardships and difficulties for so many families. If you don't have money, you don't conduct expensive funerals; that cannot be used to characterize all those who are able. I don't get your point here. Why are you concerned about how people conduct their funerals if they have their genuine resources? You use your funeral celebrations to make your point but others have their right too.

KAB, Ghana: We're talking about funeral and you have earlier on asked us to separate the burial from funeral. So let's stick to that. Everywhere in the world, people get buried, whether their family is rich or poor. If people helped bury our father, it doesn't justify spending more to organise a funeral. That's the distinction. And I've repeated to you I don't care if you have your money to waste on a funeral. But if someone else has to borrow or beg for money to do it, I don't accept it.

And you make a fantastic point which many Ghanaians know to be true: "If people stop conducting funeral rites, they will not give the money to the kids, widow or anyone else". Bingo! You've hit the nail on the head. In Ghana, we love our dead and funerals more than the living. People, who don't care a hoot about you while you are alive and won't spend a Cedi to take care of you, will suddenly hit their generosity button and spend big on your funeral when you die. In fact, that situation is so common a song was released some years ago that went like this, "me te ase manya ade?, mek?wuu a wafira me Kente...". Literally, it means when I was alive I got nothing but when I died I was dressed in a Kente cloth. Kente cloth is a priced hand-woven Ghanaian cloth. The fact is that people are so keen to spend money on funerals and forget about how those left behind would fare. If you don't see anything wrong with such a culture, there's nothing more I need to say to convince you. But then, it's not for me to tell anybody how to spend their money. But a culture that puts more premium on the dead than the living is a dead culture, methinks.

WA, USA: Enough said. I told hubby, don't ship my corpse to GH. Keep me here and cremate me. Save the money for my little ones. That's an order and it's on social media now. My right, I'm entitled to it. Opinion is like $$$; everybody has one.

NB: Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako (KAB) & Frank Assuming (FA) are siblings from same mother and father. KAB is based in Accra and FA is based in Canada. Winnie Adofo is also a Ghanaian, based in the USA.

Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako