Fantasy Coffins putting the fun into FUNeral the Ghanaian way…
As the terrible pun in the title suggests, I have stumbled upon the gloriously extravagant world of fantasy coffin making and I’m so pleased that I have. Fantasy coffins (because who wouldn’t want to be buried in a giant shoe?) are two words you probably never expected to hear in a sentence together but, for the Ga people of south-east Ghana burying their dead in elaborate coffins is a wonderfully flamboyant way to celebrate the life of those who have passed on. This is next level, extreme coffin-ing and I love it…
Here in Britain, a funeral is a traditionally sombre affair. Our clothing, the service, the muted conversations and limp sandwiches at the wake… it’s not a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong, the death of a loved one is a sad time but, a life lived is worth celebrating isn’t it? From the riotous New Orleans Jazz Funeral to the slightly more extreme Malagasy turning of the bones ritual – yep, every 5-7 years the ancestral crypt is opened, bodies are exhumed, sprayed with perfume and wine (of course!) and everyone has a dance with them – death is mourned and life is celebrated differently the world over.
In Africa however, the funeral industry is booming. Much prestige rides on the size and extravagance of your funeral, a really good one can set you back a year’s salary and, people pay it. Meaning that local photographers, DJs, bartenders and even professional mourners – who will weep over your coffin for FREE – are being kept busy. With this in mind, it’s no surprise then that the fantasy coffin has become so popular with those that can afford it.
Where did the fantasy coffin tradition start?
Legend has it that, a young up and coming carpenter; Seth Kane Kwei crafted a palanquin – traditional sedan chair Ghanaian chiefs are often transported on – in the shape of a cocoa pod for a festival. Unfortunately, the chief unexpectedly died before the palanquin could be used and it the haste to find a coffin it was repurposed he was buried in it instead. The fantasy coffin was born….
Shortly after Seth’s aeroplane, obsessed grandmother died so, naturally, he made her a plane-shaped coffin. An order from a fisherman’s son for a boat version swiftly followed and in 1950 Seth opened his first shop cementing fantasy coffins as part of the vibrant Ghanaian funeral culture. Seth sadly died in 1992. His workshop is now run by his son and grandson Cedi and Eric Anang.
In Ghanaian culture, the coffin is valued as a status symbol and a spiritual way of remembering the deceased’s job or personality. Nothing is really off limits with everything from coca-cola bottles, Nike trainers, chilli peppers, squid even a rather buxom woman being produced. In fact, for these insanely talented carpenters, the only limit is your imagination!
How much would one of these coffins set you back?
Typically, a coffin that will actually end up in the ground will be made from a soft wood and set you back around $700 dollars. But, a piece that is to remain above ground sans dead body will be made from mahogany and can sell for upwards of £ 6,500. If you’re in Britain and you have a hankering to be buried in a coffin shaped like the narrow boat – or something – then give Nottingham based company (the aptly named) Crazy Coffins a call. They have been handcrafting weird and wonderful final resting places for the great British public for the last 28 years. As with the coffin carvers of Ghana your wish is their command – producing masterpieces in the shape of a Rolls Royce, a bottle of beer, ballet shoe – these bespoke creations can set you back from £2,500 to £5,000. They aren’t cheap, but then again dying isn’t it. When you think regular coffin shaped coffins can cost thousands I definitely prefer to be buried or cremated in a giant sushi roll.
Meet fantasy coffins master craftsman Paa Jo..
Following in Seth Kane Kwei’s footsteps is his Nephew and protégé, Paa Joe. Paa Joe is widely regarded as Ghana’s most prolific coffin artist recognised for elevating fantasy coffin making into a contemporary art form. In fact, Paa Joe’s creations have more than a little Jeff Koon about them, particularly his inflatable Disney creation echoing Koon’s balloon dog sculpture.
These coffins truly are, works of art. Works of art which, just happen to end up 6 feet under the ground. Well, not all of them… you can find examples of Joe’s coffins in museums around the world. In fact, if you’re in the UK you can see them in the British Museum and the V&A. Paa Joe’s work has attracted many famous collectors, including ex-US President Carter who reportedly purchased two while on a state visit.
Paa Joe has exhibited his work many times in galleries around the world and, in 2010 became the subject of filmmaker Ben Wigley’s short documentary – Paa Joe and the Lion.
You can’t read anything about Paa Joe or fantasy coffin making without seeing the obvious joke, one that I’ve been at pains to avoid BUT…. Fantasy coffins really do put the the ‘fun’ into ‘FUNeral’ (told you it was terrible) They are fun, though, just LOOK at them. I definitely want to be buried in one – probably a shoe – what would you have?
If you would like to make any special arrangements for your funeral – including being buried in an 8-foot wellington boot – then you will need to let your family know your wishes. The best way to this is to write your Will. Future Legal Services are currently running a special NEW YEAR OFFER – have you Will professionally drafted for just £99 – this offer includes single/mirror Wills and VAT. To find out more click here, call 01322 664885 or email us at email@example.com