15 October 1999

CASKET TO

DIEFOR, GHANASTYLE

Coffins can be weird and

wonderful if you live – and

die – in Ghana, as

Wendy Jones discovers

ANY self respecting farmer who pops his clogs in Ghana, West Africa, would not be buried in a simple or plain coffin. Oh, no. Traditional Ghanaian culture demands that a farmer called to meet his maker must go with an artistic flourish.

In Ghana, people are buried or cremated in a coffin which symbolised their profession. A teacher will go through the open door in a gigantic pencil, a baker in a loaf of bread, a taxi driver in a taxi and a preacher will ascend in the Good Book.

For farmers with an unavoidable appointment with St Peter, the question is: What kind of a farmer were you? Did you grow sweetcorn? Then a sweetcorn is for you. Perhaps it was bananas. Your local undertakers stall will have a selection of the yellow fruit available. Bananas are always a popular choice.

Deceased fish farmers can meet the Fisher of Men in a wooden sardine. They will be happy to know that the sardine is smiling.

Livestock farmers, though, may suffer some blurring of identity, for while a reclining lion is available, sheep, cows and pigs are not. This may be due to the difficulty in carving such animals. There is however a four-foot high hen with a pleasing countenance and a bright red beak. This does mean that mourners in the cortege of a deceased cattle or pig farmer will be required to think laterally if their dearly departed is being buried in the aforementioned chicken.

My personal recommendation for any farmer whose number may be coming up would be the chilli pepper. The extravagant wine red paintwork, the curving lines and the witty conceit of the green stalk go to make it an admirable symbol for a life on the land.

For farmers who like to arrive in style there are eight-foot Mercedes-Benz coffins. This is the ultimate status symbol. Although it does not specify your farming background, it does speak volumes of your wealth and status and is the obvious choice for any self-made person.

Amid a throng of mourners, a chippy-looking sardine or a toothless lion adds a lighter note to an otherwise sad occasion. A further advantage is that on arriving after your happy release, you will be immediately recognisable as a farmer.

For your convenience your local coffin stall can be found on the roadside next to any church. The carving and painting is done by local craftsmen and is carried out at the stall. The artwork is of a reasonable quality, if a touch naive. The coffins are lightweight, wooden and fit all sizes. Prices are negotiable and start upwards of £100. If you feel your days are numbered it is possible to order a bespoke coffin in advance.