“To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches.”

I screamed and ran but tripped on something. I knew I couldn’t save myself so I covered my head with my hands and waited for the end. Luckily it didn’t come. Whatever was in the sky was harmless; it even felt warm, almost welcoming. After a while, I removed my hands, shaded my eyes and looked upward. There was a round, bright ball in the sky. I was awed.

Today is sunny and warm and beautiful.

When I was in Ghana, I went to two funerals. One was for my student, Margaret Atiah, who was a FraFra, a member of the local tribe. The other funeral was for my principal’s husband. They were Ashanti and lived in a huge house near Kumasi. He had died in Rome, and we sat on the porch of her house, Mrs. Intsiful and I, waiting for the casket.

The funerals were so very different. Margaret’s was tribal, traditional. She was carried, wrapped in a grass funeral mat, by relatives, all men, up to her family’s compound in the hills. The men ran carrying her body over their heads. We, the mourners, followed. The body was brought into a compound where the women shaved the hair off Margaret’s body. They believed that because you came naked into the world, you also leave naked. Margaret was to be entombed with her parents. She was considered too young for her own tomb. After the women were finished, Margaret was wrapped in the grass funeral mat which covered her completely. She was then carried to her parents’ grave. It had already been opened. The pieces of pottery which had covered that opening were on the grass to the side and would be replaced over the cover when the funeral was finished. A naked man went into the tomb and waited. The grass mat was held over the opening and her body was dropped inside to the man. I was told he would place her beside her parents. There was no ceremony the way we know it. The tradition was the ceremony. Her daughter, who was about five, had had her head shaved in mourning for her mother. The family gave us a goat so we could eat together as a school family and remember Margaret.

The second funeral was far different. The casket had a porthole which showed the man’s face; it was placed on his bed in the middle of the room. The rest of the room was empty. We mourners circled the casket. Many people moaned and screamed as they walked by it. The sound of grief was constant. His son screamed Kwabena, Kwabena, his father’s name, over and over out a window. At one point, as I was standing to the side, a man came up to me and said he thought white people were amazing. He said there was sweat on the upper lip of the deceased making him look alive. I didn’t bother to explain.

When the time came, the casket was placed in the back of an open hearse, and we walked behind it to the cemetery. Prayers were said, and the body was lowered into the ground. We then walked back to the house. Food was served and people danced and sang. Death was celebrated.

Living in Ghana gave me experiences beyond measure.

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9 Comments on ““To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches.””

  1. olof1 Says:

    I think our different rituals or funeral customs are very interresting. I like the idea to celebrate death, something they more or less did here not so long ago. I don’t think I would lie if I say they had a party after the funeral, few walked home sober 🙂

    Now days our traditions are changing again. We have non relogious funerals where the now dead person picked out what he or she wanted to happen during the funeral, like what kind of music should be played. Everything from heavy metal to opera arias can be plyed 🙂

    It seems that the clothes code is changing a lot as well, dark colored clothes isn’t that usual any longer and I like that.Personally I like the Indian way, to be burned on a huge pile of fire wood and then have my ashes spread somewhere I have decided.

    Rain, wind and 34F today, it feels like spring but spring will most likely not come until late next month as best.

    Have a great day!

    • katry Says:

      I think funerals should be the final celebration of a person’s life and there should be balloons and music and dancing.

      I too want to be cremated but I don’t know where I want the ashes spread. I have chosen my music because I didn’t want church music. My last song, for leaving the church, is I can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound.

      Black here isn’t all that big a color anymore either. I think generally only the family seems to wear black.

      You too have a great day!

  2. olof1 Says:

    The rules on where one is allowed to be spread is very stricht here, out in the ocean or on special places at the cemetary. But what are friends for if not for breaking the law 🙂 🙂 I want to be spread out on the bog nearby 🙂

    Our churches have loosen up what kind of music is allowed to be played on funerals but they have a veto. So even if I am chriatian I’m thinking of a non religious funeral where I can choose my own music. I doubt a religious funeral is important when it comes to get into heaven or hell .-) 🙂 🙂

    • katry Says:

      I bet the rules here are similar, but I also figure the odds are against your getting caught in most places. I too woul take the risk for a firend and hope they’d do the same.

      I think you can choose your own music as I have heard a varoety of music at the different services.

  3. Bob Says:

    In the end we all will arrive at the same destination, death. Our culture has turned that final journey into a multi-billion dollar business. The grieving family is confronted by salesmen who say things like, “Doesn’t aunt Martha deserve to rest eternally on the silk pillow?” Aunt Martha is not here anymore and the silk pillow only increases their commission. An entrepreneur here in Dallas had to fight the funeral industry for years to open a casket store. He will sell you or your family the box at a huge discount. His argument to overcome the objections of the established funeral directors was that a casket is really just a piece of furniture.

    I hate open casket funerals because I want to remember the person as they were when they were alive. I don’t believe in embalming or metal caskets, our remains should go to their final resting place within 24 hours wrapped in a linen shroud and return to the earth in a truly natural state. Who wants their remains turned into a rubber chicken preserved in a can. I am too close to the holocaust to allow myself to be cremated or tattooed as were the six million innocent victims of the Nazis.

    I never visit a cemetery where my relatives are buried. What is the solace in looking at piece of grassland with plaque? Keeping their memories alive of their good deeds for future generations is really the reward of death.

    The following skit is still relevant today.

    • katry Says:

      I had for gotten who wonderful Nichols and May were. They never failed to make me laugh or here to wonder. Their satire is right on perfect.

      When we went to choose my dad’s coffin, we all decided he’d have been really indignant if we spent a lot of money so we took the second cheapest. We decided he would have been quite happy at our choice as he always considered himself the ant in a family of grasshoppers happy to while their time away while he worked.

      We Catholics have wakes ahead of time which may or may not have open caskets. Both my parents’ were open. In my mother’s case, she looked beautiful.The cancer had ravaged her, and in the casket she looked herslf, the mother we all remembered, not the one we watched waste away.

      I think it’s illegal not to have some sort of a casing.

      When I drive by the cemetery, I always say hello to my parents just to let them know I’m thinking about them. They don’t know but i take some comfort in remembering them..

      • Bob Says:

        You are correct about the casing. The funeral industry has convinced the lawmakers that if they can’t make money on turning you into a rubber chicken because of religious reasons, then they will charge you for concrete casing. People are lowered into the ground in shrouds without concrete to surround them all over the world with no ill effects. If anyone believes in an afterlife and an omnipotent deity, then you don’t need a pickled body to be resurrected to regain eternal life. I for one believe in the end it’s just six feet of dirt and 39 cents worth of cheap plastic flowers forever.

        As usual in the relationship of business and politics money talks and everything else walks.

  4. Zoey & Me Says:

    Interesting. This post came at a time when I was immersed, for some odd reason, in the 3 hour church service for Whitney Houston.

    • katry Says:

      It was written while I was watching the service. I was reminded how differently the ceremony is approached by different religions and countries so this came to mind.

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