Funerals are a big deal in Ghana. It is prevalent in some parts, for the ceremony to last up to seven days. The ceremony draws thousands of crowds garnished in flowing red and black robes and gold jewelry. In Ghana, some families opt to hire professional mourners to cry at the funeral of the deceased. They believe these actions are a reward to their loved ones.
Ghanaian funerals are symbolic, and rituals include giving offerings to the spirits of the ancestors. This is followed by loud traditional dancing and drumming to accompany the dead on their last journey.
However, this tradition came to a stop after Ghana Presidents suspended public gatherings following the Coronavirus. In mid-March, President Nana Akufo limited the number of people to 25 in the nation.
Daniel 73-year-old father to Obed died soon after the announcement following difficulties from a stroke. Obed struggles to make painful phone calls, send notices informing attendees he could only invite 25 family members and friends. The Two thousand initially expected people and an official funeral was postponed to a later date.
“We had to cut off all some relatives. Most were able to attend. Six slots were set for relatives from my father’s side and three slots for the church members.” he said, his voice shaking.
The large funeral home they rented for the ceremony was converted into a small, private chapel within the same venue. Face masks concealed the grief on the faces of mourners dressed in red and black, as they stood several meters apart with heads bowed in remembrance of a highly respected elder, who founded churches in parts of West Africa.
Ghana’s largest funeral home, a once heavy flow of funerals, now trickles slowly. The general manager, Genevieve Carnelius, affirmed that finances had been severely affected. She adds that she focuses on working with clients like Obed to reschedule funerals for their loved ones to unknown dates. The home now offers online streaming from the chapel. Therefore, mourners all over the world can view the ceremony of their loved one.
Business catering for funerals was once very lucrative. Maryam is a fashion designer who sews customary garments for funerals and weddings. She now sits in an empty shop that was once full of customers stating how the pandemic has affected her business.
“No one shows up. Even people who already brought cloths for me to sew have not passed by to pick them up. However, if this is what it takes to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, then I am okay,” said Maryam.
Currently, she prefers her clients to stay home because she feels more protected from contracting the virus herself. However, it won’t be long before her funds run dry.
A stray from traditional customs
Handshakes and hugs with the deceased family is a tradition in most Ghanaian tribes that have taken place for many years now. This tradition has become a mandatory part of ceremonies to show respect for the dead. Queen Naa Tsotsoo Soyoo I, is a Ghanaian Queen mother, who plays a role in the dominant group of traditional women leaders. She explained how the ban on mass funeral gatherings significantly affected the customs of such ceremonies.
“An important part of funerals is bringing families together to embrace through hugs, handshakes and to mourn closely to one another,” said Queen Naa.
With the ban, families are now unable to connect; that is the immediate implication. This is something that has not happened in the past generation. Therefore, it is going to have an impact on society. However, despite several changes, some will never go away like a cleansing ritual for the body.
“Despite the current situation, the testament of a funeral will always be a view of how a person lived life. The center of every funeral is that the individual is sent off with respect and dignity,” she added.
It is not easy to tell how long the effects of Covid-19 will change lives as we once knew it. But Queen Naa is sure of one thing there will be many celebrations of life when this is all over.