In the African country of Ghana death is customarily seen as a departure from the land of the living into that of the world of one’s ancestors. Ghanaian ancestors are believed to have influence over their living relatives and love and respect for the deceased is an integral part of Ghanaian culture.
It is not surprising, then, that fantasy coffins are particularly popular in Ghana, where a group of talented carpenters fashion colorful, descriptive wooden coffins that many consider to be stunning works of art.
The custom is believed to have originated with the figurative palanquin, a special litter designed for Ga chiefs and priests in the Accra Region of Ghana.
The Ghanaian fantasy coffin tradition as we know it today began in 1951 when two carpenters decided to honor their late grand-mother’s dream to fly by burying her in a coffin shaped in the form of an airplane (another legend has it that the first was a coffin designed as a fish for a local fisherman). Soon other families began to commission other coffins that represented the life achievements or hopes of deceased relatives. High social status is sometimes represented by the eagle. Other coffins reflect aspects of the deceased’s personality, while others portray germane African proverbs.
The coffins come in many shapes and sizes such as cars or animals of West African cities, the banners of local clubs and even mobile phones and laptops. Many of these Ghanaian coffins have been displayed in many international art museums and galleries around the world.
On the day of the funeral the deceased is carried through the town to the grave site and large crowds of mourners will see the coffin for the first time.
Well-known fantasy coffin artists include Kudjoe Affutu, Ataa Oko, Daniel Mensah, Eric Adjetey Anang and Paa Joe.
The popularity of the fantasy coffin continues to thrive and has become a prosperous business in Ghana. Ghanaian coffins can now be ordered online and are exported all over the world to meet the needs of the Ghanaians dispersed around the world.
With thanks to the London Evening Standard