Monday, October 28, 2013

You can dance, laugh, drink and sing. It’s a Ghanaian Funeral.

At first glance, you might think that you were entering a nightclub or a wedding hall, but the people are wearing T-shirts, posters and holding CDs bearing the photo of an elegant older person. The boisterous party was a funeral for a gentleman from Ghana. Ghanaians spare no expense because “we care more about the dead than the living. Just die and you will see how many loved ones you have.”

Ghanaian funerals are parties in New York

The Irish may be known for their spirited wakes, but Ghanaians have perfected the over-the-top “party” funeral. And in Ghana as well as New York City, these parties aka funerals are the highlight of their social calendar. There’s very little mourning here.

Held nearly every weekend in church auditoriums and social halls across New York City, they are all-night affairs with open bars and loud music. While the families are raising money to cover funeral expenses; disc jockeys, photographers, videographers and bartenders make it appear more like a wedding than a funeral.

Weddings, christenings and birthdays are all celebrated heartily in Ghanaian circles, but few match the grandiose level of the funeral memorial service. When Ghanaians find themselves without weekend plans, they call their circle of fellow expatriates and ask where the funerals are. No invitation needed.

Ghanaian traditions are upheld.

In the Ghana tradition, there may or may not be a body present, or a clergyman. The religious beliefs expressed may be evangelical Christian, Roman Catholic or even secular. The deceased may have died in New York or in Ghana, a few days or a few months earlier. The funerals and memorials all have the same purpose; as festive fund-raisers for bereaved families and as midnight reunions for Ghanaians seeking to dance off the daily grind of everyday life.

Generally open to all, the memorials have become larger and more frequent in recent years as New York City’s Ghanaian population has grown and become more settled. The latest census estimates show that there are about 21,000 Ghanaians in the city, mostly in the Bronx, up from 14,000 in 2005.

Funerals are promoted like a concert.

These funeral parties are diligently prepared and promoted weeks in advance with online advertisements such as “I celebrate the life of my mother” or on lavish fliers that can be found at African restaurants and grocery stores. The fliers often bear a resemblance to theater playbills, with photos of the grieving family and friends, known as the “chief mourners, as well as credits for the Master of Ceremonies and staff.

A well-attended funeral carries great social stature and everyone wants to have the hottest funeral of the year. The parties are a direct import from Ghana, where funerals are world-renowned for their size and over the top extravagance. Caskets or coffins as they are called in Ghana reflect the lifestyle or career of the deceased. Caskets are very unusual and can resemble Mardi Gras floats; a soccer ball, a canoe or even a lion.

In Ghana, “the most significant cost you’re going to incur in your life is not going to be your wedding — it’s going to be your funeral,” said Brian Larkin, a Barnard College anthropology professor who studies West African culture.

“People get caught up in a competitive display,” he continued.

Anyone can attend a Ghanaian funeral party.

As in Ghana, funeral guests in New York need not know the deceased or even the family. But they are expected to pay respects to the bereaved, cut loose on the dance floor and donate $50 to $100 to cover funeral costs. A big party aka funeral can raise thousands of dollars.

The funerals usually begin around 10 p.m. with religious blessings, ceremonies and speeches in English and Twi, a Ghanaian language. By midnight, the dancing has started. By 2 a.m., the funeral-crashers have arrived, and the party is in full swing.

The mourners are usually dressed in traditional toga-style wraps of red and black, the colors of mourning. They will stay through the night and leave around 5 or 6:00 am.

Funerals in Ghana.

Funerals in Ghana have always been very much a social event and attended by large numbers of people. It was also an obligation to attend.

Ghana is largely a Christian country with a variety of church types, but many have underlying beliefs that come from before the introduction of Christianity. They believe that a person after death goes to the land of the dead.

“Death and money are inextricably linked in Ghana because funerals are meant to both celebrate the life of the deceased and show the success of a family, and flamboyant funerals carry more social prestige than any other ceremony”, says Marleen de Witte, an anthropologist at the University of Amsterdam. “Most Ghanaians agree that they are spending too much money on funerals, but as soon as somebody in their own family dies, the social pressure to hold an impressive funeral proves very hard to resist,” she says.

While relatives have traditionally contributed to meet funeral costs, those donations are no longer enough. Many have resorted to taking out bank loans to cover the funeral costs. There is a better way.

There is a new option to defray some of the funeral costs; Funeral Fund.

This new crowdfunding site can assist families in raising the necessary donations to cover funeral expenses. No more worries. Let the dancing begin!

The Source

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