Posted tagged ‘Casket’

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

February 18, 2012

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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