Friday, January 13, 2012

Checkin Out the Coffin's Curators

hi again.
i know, 2 posts in one day...a little excessive. but when you're in a place with internet that's so awesomely fast you can spoil yourself a little, right?
i actually had a lot of photos i wanted to upload but, due to my camera battery's being exhausted, i could not. so i'm just going to babble a little bit.

today we went to check out the coffins of Ghana. this may sound like a strange thing to do, but Ghana is actually famous worldwide for their coffins. we saw a picture of one shaped like a shoe (a sneaker, where the laces come off to let the body in) in an old Ghanian newspaper and from then on i knew that was one thing i wanted to see before i left. i didn't imagine i would get to do it so early on. but with a friend headed to the airport at 5 pm, we decided that would be the perfect outing. so we set out to catch a tro-tro (like a gelly in Gambia, local transport, incredibly cheap and, you know, "cultural") to the area of town our guidebook said they would be. and, of course, they weren't. we did, however, all to fittingly pass a funeral procession on the way, where there was an exuberant marching band, dancing children, and a silver gilded coffin with The Last Supper painting carved on the sides. but we found a taxi fairly easily who took us even farther out of Accra to an area called Teshi, where we passed one coffin workshop and were dropped off at another. that was where we met Eric, a really cool guy with a website you should really check out, not in the least because i don't think you'll believe me about how awesome these coffins are until you see some pics.

the coffins come in all shapes and sizes, and all different kinds. Eric's shop had quite a few fish, an eagle, a lion, a coke bottle, a Star (beer) bottle, and a tomato basket overflowing with wooden tomatoes. and that was just the beginning. i am so glad Eric was there to give us some insight on this practice, this art form.

the story Eric told us was about his grandfather, who truly loved his grandmother, and to celebrate her death (and her dreams in life) he made her a coffin shaped like an airplane, because one thing she'd always wanted to do is fly, but never could. apparently, many tribes traditionally bury their chiefs in a coffin shaped like the symbol of their tribe (which is why the fish coffins are so popular), but his grandfather was one of the first to build one for someone who wasn't of paramount importance to anyone but her family. his labor of love bloomed into a business, and eventually his father took up his grandfather's business, and now Eric and his father work together. we must have talked to him for almost an hour, about coffins, families, death, everything. he has been all over the world, working with other artists, teaching at universities, and designing coffins for people. for example, he was asked to go to russia to contribute to their "death and culture" museum and wound up making the curator a coffin in the shape of a vodka bottle.

Eric has a unique perspective on death, being in his line of work. he wants to make coffins that people will truly enjoy, and he showed us some examples. one of the funniest ones to me was a coffin in the shape of a Bible, true to form. i promise i have pictures. part of his perspective also comes from the Ghanaian view, where death is a celebration of life. they don't avoid it like other cultures. there are posters all over the cities, like obituaries, with large pictures of people who have recently passed, and information about them. the coffins are all playful, and usually representative of the person's life. some women even go so far as to be buried in chicken coffins with carved wooden chicks to represent each of their children nestled at their feet. it's absolutely a different take than we have in america. i asked Eric (who could resist) what kind of coffin he would want...and he said he'd already made his. it's in his house, doubling as a tv stand. it's in the shape of a planar, the carpentry tool. not as fantastic as the crayfish coffin we later found, but respectable. the funniest part is that his father (who has been in the business all Eric's life) refuses to make his own coffin, or consider what he wants, and even tries to get Eric to take his planar out of the house. different ideas.

it was amazing. a little off the beaten path, but i can't think of a better way i'd have spent the day. it could be a really helpful part of the mourning process, to send your loved one off in a representation of what they loved the most. it definitely helps those still here remember and celebrate. to Cape Coast! update soon.

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