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Essence of funeral rites

The actual purpose of a funeral is to honour the dead for their meritorious services on earth, ushering them into eternal glory and to integrate them into the next world.

Asantes perform rituals for their dead kinsmen and loved ones in general. These rituals are defined as ‘ayie’ (funeral) in the Akan language. The Akan people hold a general belief that death is but a transition into a next world termed locally as “asamando”. Here, it is only the body which dies; the soul of a person is immortal and lives eternally on.

By dying, therefore, a person is believed to be born into the family of the ancestral spirits through the living and his descendants.

The conduct of funerals is seen as avenues where family members and children of the bereaved in particular pay their last respect to the dead. Upon the death of a person, the Abusuapanin (family head) leads the family in the performance of rituals, as part of the burial and funeral rites.

The Akan people recognize two types of death, “owupa” (good death) and “owubɔne”, that is, “atofowuo”.

· Examples of gooddeath: natural causes – long life; dying in sleep; ordinary ill-health; making peace with others before dying (remorse of the wrongs done to others), etc.

· Examples of baddeath: accident (nkwanhyia – kae; dua kasa; etc.); fatal illnesses such as tuberculosis (nsamanwa); leprosy (kwata); etc. Such people are not buried decently for dying “atofowuo”.

· An adult not celebrated: “soduo” If a child of a couple has not died before (not to create a path for more deaths).

Funerals are celebrated by the Asante people to honour their dead relatives who passed away by “good death”. Any person whose funeral was not celebrated is considered “bad death”, who lingers on as a kind of wandering and aggressive spirit (samankwenkwen).

Some practices significant about funerals

· Fasting/abstinence from major staple foods such as fufu, ampesie. Eating of maize foods, rice, permitted.

· Chewing of cola-nuts by the elderly to symbolize grief

· Singing of dirges by the elderly women shows the mood of the times

· Firing of musketry to signal the death of an “obrempon”

· Drumming and dancing to signal the griefing atmosphere of the time

Funerals are organized not only as the final bid of farewell to the dead, but to also show the affection of the community towards the deceased.

Funerals can either take place in the deceased’s hometown or the place where he spent most of his/her years. This situation has emerged as a result of rural-urban drift for jobs; marriages, etc.

For a funeral to be well attended depends on the deceased’s social status (prominent person, well educated, position is state); inter-personal relationship within the community; associations joined (church, benevolent, work, etc.) among others.

The Day of Death

Tobe deceased, or pronounced dead means, among others:

· being givenwater to gulp down for the journey ahead to asamando

· confirmation of death: pouring of very hot water on the head

· washing of the body is done by close relatives or children, especially women

· Alcohol pushed down the throat to prevent early decomposition of the body

· Salt solution, lime and camphor balls were all used to preserve the corpse

· ancient days, elderly women used herbs, banana and plantain leaves and spices to prevent decomposition. This involved placing the corpse flat on its stomach to allow water to drain through the nose, ears and other pores on/of the body

· the “odikro” is officially informed of the passing of the dead by the presentation of drinks, etc. (quantity and quality depends upon the status of the chief…as well as the clout of the deceased).

· the general public is then informed of the demise of a member by singing of dirges and firing guns.

· The family prepares the body to lay in state by dressing it with the best clothes of his/hers; ornaments of gold/gold dust/ beads, etc.

Rites towards Burial

A lot goes on towards the burial of the deceased which include:

· One- or two-day wake is organized to lay the body in state for all and sundry to file past and pay their last respects.

· Presentations of burial rites, principally, by the head of the lineage and his people, children, paternal relations, widower or widow and close friends and loved ones.

· Burial items include pieces of cloth, rings and sums of money tied in handkerchiefs, mats, pillows and toiletries. (Some are meant to provide comfort on the long journey to asamando; or gifts for ancestors accompanied by all sorts of messages)

· Digging of the grave by the young men of the town

· Burial is done: in the evening (if ordinary citizen) or in the night (if royal)

Preparation for Final funeral rites

The funeral rites event usually begins with the ‘one week’ celebration where the bereaved family discusses matters pertaining to the final funeral rites - when to conduct the final funeral rites; where to do it; who to invite;what is needed to organize a good funeral;accommodation for those coming from afar; thebudget for the coffin, foodstuffs, drinks, chairs; local bands (adowa, densuom, kete, etc.)

· Abusuapanin soma kwabrane ma woko se se abrempon, abusuafuo a wowo akwantuo mu (ahafo)

Community Contributions towards the funeral

Funeral “rites” is a ‘duty imposed’ on a group or community by which all individuals give their collective responses or support. Though it is a family affair, the whole town is involved.

· Maleelders, led by the Abusuapanin, have the responsibility for the overall planning of the funeral (where to get a loan for the funeral, buying coffin, drinks, hiring chairs and agoro, etc.)

· Femaleelders, led by the Obaapanin, prepare the corpse for preservation and laying in state; sing the dirges (to ayinan, ko tia ba tia), cook the food, find accommodation for house from afar; etc.

· Young men dig the grave, raise the traditional canopies of palm fronds and bamboo stakes; carry the corpse in a coffin to the cemetery

· Female youth go forwater for cooking, drinking and also serve at the funeral grounds

· Children of the deceased buy the coffin, pay for the digging and decoration of the body.

The Funeral Rites Day

For a funeral to be well attended, it depends on the deceased’s social status, inter-personal relationship within the community, among others. It also depends on the clout of the family or individual within the family who attracts people of all walks of life to come and mourn with him/her.

· There are two important days for the performance of the final funeral rites: Thursday (Yawda) for “adehye” and “abrempon”; and Saturday (Memeneday) as ordinary.

· There are two types of funeral: “dɔteyie” (performed within the first three days of a person’s death at which sympathizers come and mourn with the bereaved family without necessarily donating money ad items); and “ayipa” (actual funeral) that is postponed to a different and more convenient date.

· The final funeral rites are performed with a durbar of chiefs, family members, friends and loved ones from far and near at the funeralgrounds. Music, dancing, wailing, et. characterize the event, which lasts from 6am till 6pm.

· Cloth for the funeral (ayitoma): tumtum (kuntunkuni; brisi – won in the morning till burial); kokoo (koben – won at the funeral grounds). Note: Women wear koben down and brisi up in the morning; and turn it over during the funeral; black and white won during the funeral of an elderly person.

· Funeraldonations (nsawa) are very important obligations whereby the Akans resort to the collection of money, drinks, etc. to defray funeral expenses.

o Both the nuclear and extended families could mount a common table for the collection of nsawa. Sometimes separate tables are mounted when the two families have some form of conflict; or may want to avoid it.

Post-funeral accountability

Accounting for the funeral is on Friday (for a Thursday funeral); and on Monday (for a Saturday funeral). The Abusuapanin leads the family to account for allexpenses (on coffin, drinks, dancing groups, food, etc; all donations (nsawa – money, drinks, etc.) and allreturns (hired items that were not used).

· Literally, the Abusuapanin, who is in charge of the funeral money, takes responsibility of the funeral account.

o Where there is a surplus after all expenses are declared for settlement, the money goes to the family covers.

o Where, on the other hand, there is a debt, the Abusuapanin takes it; or a prominent member of the family or children of the deceased take it.

o Where however the debt is colossal, the Abusuapanin takes a part; the widower or widow takes a part; and the lines of lineage (abusuakuo) as well as individuals a part. A deadline is given for all parties to make good their pledges in order to settle all debts.

Commemoration periods of the dead

Traditionally, the funeral celebrations take a full year.

· The eighth-day (naawotweda) is observed as the first commemoration for the deceased.

· Six weeks (42 days) after, (adaduanan), there is another observation.

· The 84th day, (adaduowɔtwe), is also commemorated.

· The one-year (afienhyiada) anniversary of the deceased is usually celebrated to (a) cross out the marriage between the deceased and the partner; and (b) libation is poured on the grave/tomb of the deceased to end the traditional commemorative days in the sense of separating the dead from the living. Such libations are poured to call on the gods for good health and long life for the living, and the ancestors to grant the deceased a worthy place of abode at asamando.

Contemporary/modern funeral and funeral rites

A lot of modernization has been injected into Asante funeral and funeral rites. Social changes coupled with technological advances have reformed the way funerals and associated rituals are conducted These of course bring the contrast between the old and new practices as regards funeral celebrations. The following are obvious:

· Dawuro and sending messengers are replaced byradio/television/newspaper/billboard advertisements

· the dead is now preserved for days before burial due to advancement in technology by putting the body in the morgue. In fact, a corpse can be preserved in a mortuary for as long as the families can put resources together while waiting for loved ones to arrive from abroad; thus paving the way for the family to adequately prepare for the funeral

· funeral services have also changed with infiltration of Christian values; and also Islamic beliefs for early and basic burial for the deceased.

· Of old, funerals were a one-day (Thursday or Saturday) affair; now, the one week remembrance and Sunday feature prominently

· funerals were communal one, in which expenses were the responsibility of the family; but today’s society puts the burden of the expenses partly on the wife/husband and children.

· the traditional canopies of palmfronds and bamboospokes are replaced with tents and canopies (losing the cool of old)

· Family cooking has given way to the hiring of caterers

· The traditional care-taker has given way to more sophisticated, very expensive ones

· Where women of the community led dirges in ties past, we now have professional mourners who are hired to sing the dirges

· Due to modernization, some families buy new and common cloth to glorify the dead person which was unheard of in olden days

· Bereaved homes were painted after the final funeral rites to wash away all the bad omen that was brought along with the event. Nowadays, bereaved homes are renovated before the funeral to curb disgrace of visitors from the cities and abroad; in essence, the deceased are laid in a well decorated house to maintain their social esteem, at least, for once.

Significance of funerals

Funerals are organized to say goodbye to a cherished member of a family, wife or husband, which make them solemn occasions. However, such events generate a lot of good things, among which are the following:

· Organized to honour the parting and in memory of a beloved one (“Yɛrehyɛ no animuonyam”)

· Occasion for family members and children of the bereaved in particular to say farewell by paying their last respect to the dead

· a bond of reciprocity: since one’s parents or family members cater for their children or kind while alive, they are entreated to organize a proper burial for them in turn

· funerals are closely linked to status enhancement of both the deceased and the bereaved: for the deceased, it exhibits how important, caring, etc. while alive; and to the bereaved, it shows their appreciation for the good things the deceased did while alive

· aside holy days (dabone), funerals are periods families commune with their ancestors for good health, long life, prosperity, fertility, togetherness, sparing evil deeds and calamities, etc.

· funerals give room for strengthening home-ties for truants (“Akobofoɔ aba fie”) and demonstration of family support for less privileged members

· Funerals have always been a main social event in the Akan society of Ghana: they are periods to settle family disputes; they are also periods to contract marriages; it is also a period to display the rich cultural heritage of the Akans: chiefs dress in full regalia; showcasing different troupes and dances, performed by both professionals and natives.

· Funerals elevate the town since feeder roads are rehabilitated; new buildings are put up or rehabilitated; streets cleaned; paths cleared and enjoyment in the midst of sorrow becomes the norm.

· Funerals provide various sources of economic activity: coffin makers; drinks producers; dance troupes; service providers – canopies, chairs, etc. care-takers, food sellers, etc.

The dark-side of funerals

For every liver, there is a bile. It is not meant to be the case but as a human institution, certain developments may express the dark-side of funerals (especially in the modern sense). The following are documented:

· some families that used to be closely knit together end up being divided

· some funerals result in legal wrangling

· debts incurred after funerals, sometimes out of show-off to the general public

· assets confiscated stemming from their inability to redeem their debts mostly from banks

· although families have lamented and continue to lament over expensive funerals, all efforts to reduce the cost have proved futile (use of local drinks; hiring fewer dance bands; etc.

 By Filasco


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