By Frank Goka
Deceased laid in state to depict their previous lifestyle and occupation in Ghana. Courtesy: WhatsApp
God, in His infinite wisdom created both the living and non-living things to compliment the beauty of the universe. Besides the permanent existence of the immortals, living creatures have lifespan in the sense that; there is birth and an inevitable end of life—death.
The difference between animals and humans when death occurs is that, carcasses are left unattended in the wilderness whilst human beings buried their dead in a “dignifying” manner depending on one’s customs and norms. For instance, most African ethnic clans will observe some rites and even mummify the body for months before internment; but in Europe and the Americas, no time is “wasted” to dispose their deceased. However, in the wake of globalization and African emigration skewed towards the western worlds, it seems the leopards will not let go its spots! The native African, especially the Ghanaian, will not trade their customary funeral rites in the Diaspora for pizza and burgers! They simply would want to honor and bury their departed ones the way they are accustomed. But, must we really practice certain traditional rites, so strictly, on a foreign land when we are bereaved?
Years now, this mind-boggling question keeps resonating among Ghanaian residents in the Diaspora especially those in the major cities –New York, London, Toronto, Hamburg, etc., and has generated a whetting debate between two principal schools of thought: The proponents and the opponents.
To seek the views of the people, yours truly “Original Doctor” and his co-panelists—Counselor James and Mr. Duah digested this flaming topic on his popular show—This is Our Time (Yɛn Mrɛ Nie) on Amansan Radio, NY. The discussants outlined the essence of the traditional funeral calendar as follows:
- One week sitting—used to formally announce the death within the community; take stock of the deceased properties (i.e. wife/wives, children, farm etc) and plan the funeral.
- Wake–keeping/ Memorial Service: A religious of traditional vigil for the late on the eve of burial on a chosen date.
- Widow/Widower’s Rites: The widow or widower is expected to go through some rites for some days or months (tribal variations) before he or she can re-marry.
- The 40th Day celebration: Per some African believes, the ghost of a late relative hovers around the society until the 40th day just as Christians observe the Ascension Day of Christ. A ritual is performed to cleanse the house and bid the soul farewell.
- First Anniversary: Is organized to commemorate the passing and burial of the deceased. Family heads evaluate the impact of the death; ascertain acceptance level and the welfare of the dependents left behind.
Mr. Duah summarized that since every society has its norms and peculiarities, it’s imperative for Ghanaians abroad to follow the heels of the Romans in Rome. Unlike Ghana, people are employed in multiple jobs within the 24 hours and have no collectivistic family support system to enable attendance of series of observations abroad.
The other arguers proclaimed that, Ghanaians living abroad should not shy away from the traditional values they inherited from their forefathers. That, we should take pride and preserve our rich and enviable culture regardless of our locations and status; because society may change but tradition goes on and on. They further argued that our children in the Diaspora ought to learn our customs through observations from us.
In sampling views, some callers showed divergent opinions that suggested that this debate is yet to “die” soon—except that, we still don’t know what “funeral rite” to befit it when it dies finally. Mr. Ohene Kusi opined that, we should consolidate the observations in “one-shot” because of the time and expenses involved. Efo Agbezuge (Texas) called to lament that the deviation from our cultural practices will be like walking in the desert without leaving a footprint—no one will trace our origin let alone our destination. He advised further that, we must tell our African stories wherever we are with pride. Sister Adwoa (Denver) emerged from a compromising alley and submitted that, if the deceased gave up the ghost in abroad, then we ought to observe the necessary customs as it is done in Ghana. However, she vehemently objected to the act of mirroring indigenous funeral rites in abroad for deceased relatives in Ghana.
A survey conducted by Amansan Radio within Ghanaian communities in NYC (funerals, churches and picnics) revealed the following:
- 70% of female (18-40years) said the practice should be abolished in the Diaspora.
- 65% of their male counterparts agreed to abolish the act. Of the 18-40 year group, 75% identified themselves as “Christians” and regular church attendants; 20% were Muslims and 5% were non-denominational.
- 44% of 40-70 year group (both sexes) want the tradition to continue in abroad and 40% of that category agreed with Sister Adwoa that the rites should be replicated only if the person died abroad. 16% kicked against the practice citing time and money consumption of such practices.
The debate continues and we encourage readers to leave their comments to enable comprehensive analysis on this smoky topic: Should we strictly undertake traditional funeral formalities in abroad as it is done in Ghana or not?