Ghanaians call for Fridays off as funerals take over weekends
Burying the dead is not only costly in terms of time and money but energy, with funeral parties taking their toll in the workplace
The chance to show off your best black clothes, eat spicy gibletkyinkyinga kebabs, enjoy unlimited free drinks and perhaps meet the love of your life – welcome to funerals, Ghana style.
Such is the love of funerals that they take up most of the weekend, and some Ghanaians want to reduce the working week to make more time for them.
“Funerals used to take up Saturday and Sunday, but now I’d say 90% of churches bury bodies on Friday as well, so people are having to take time off work to go to the service,” said Gabriel Tetteh, an online funeral planner. “With the pressure of having to fit in a visit to the service while working on Friday, and all weekend taken up, when you go to work on Monday you feel the pain.”
President Yahya Jammeh has just made the Gambia the first country to introduce a four-day working week, decreeing that the extra time should be used to devote more time to prayers, social activities and agriculture. Now some are hoping this will spread to Ghana. “The truth is that over here, public-sector workers have always found ways to have four-day weeks if they want,” wrote Elizabeth Ohene, a former government minister in Ghana.
Funerals offer the biggest parties and best socialising in Ghana, and are attended by extremely distant relatives or anyone who has known the deceased (and sometimes those who haven’t). Towns and cities are dotted with signs by the roadside advertising important funerals to passers-by, to attract the maximum number of mourners.
Ghana is also famous for its elaborate coffins, with families choosing to bury loved ones in caskets shaped as beer bottles, aeroplanes or giant shoes.
“We estimate that the cost of funerals in Ghana often runs into thousands of dollars,” said David Dorey from MicroEnsure, a UK-based company that provides life insurance in Ghana. “There is obviously this cultural thing that seems to have spiralled slightly out of control.”
Some Ghanaians have complained that the fixation of funerals represents a prioritisation of the dead over the living.
“We Ghanaians, we love funerals. If you are sick, no one has money to pay your medical bills. If you need money for school fees, no one can help you. But if you die, everyone is running to give money for your funeral – a lot of money! We love funerals too much,” said Seth Akpalu, who lives in the capital, Accra.
“In Ghana, people do spend more on the dead than the living,” said Tetteh. “There are some people, when a relative is living, they wouldn’t mind. But when the person dies, they put a lot of money into it, otherwise other people will be there insulting them.”
Asked why they enjoy attending funerals, young Ghanaians said it was mainly for the social aspects, and the refreshments. “Free Fanta and small chops,” tweeted Deborah Vanessah, a singer and model. “Sexy black clothes,” tweeted another.
“Funerals are grounds to meet new partners if you are unmarried. I have met a girl at a funeral on two occasions,” said Samuel Kofi Nartey, a law student in Accra. “You know, in Ghana our funerals are parties. You get to dance with a person or sit around with them and talk about stuff and one thing leads to another.”