To the Grave and Beyond:
A look at funeral rituals and Traditions from various West African Cultures

Ashanti continued

Burial: The corpse is buried with money for the “lorry fare to Asamando” or the Land of the Dead (Vollbrecht 16). He is also equipped with a mat, blanket, pillow, handkerchief, and ring. He also keeps the sponge, bucket, towel and soap that were used to wash him. The Ashanti believe that if the ghost has all it needs, then it should have no reason to come back to the village. The funeral attendees move to the gravesite singing  asafo chants and pounding gongs. There are no ceremonies at the grave; the grave is filled quickly and no indicator keeps its place. This is because the body decomposes over time and eventually disappears.

The Ashanti attach little meaning to the body; it is the ancestral spirit that must be treated with the utmost care.  Death, as is common in many West African cultures, is regarded as a passage from the status of a living member of the community to that of an ancestor. Also common is the belief that the liminal phase between burial and initiation into ancestorhood  is very dangerous. It is feared that if the ghost (saman) of the deceased isn't satisfied with his funeral, he might return to the village. Accordingly, emphasis is placed on appeasing the ghost through funeral rituals.

 The Funeral: The public funeral actually begins eight days after death and burial. Relatives from all over Ghana arrive at the village to pay their last respects. For the Ashanti, mourning and the grief process are supposed to be emotional. “When someone is upset, they do not obey the rules. If they do, that shows they’re not really upset. If someone who is wailing and crying greets you or smiles when you greet them, that shows that they are not really sorry” (Vollbrecht 19)

 Male family members collect donations as they sit in fold-up chars along the street. Visitors join them in sitting on the sides of the street and greet each other. The close family members get up from their chairs and greet everyone individually. Drummers play while attendees dance the adowa funeral dance. Presentations of gifts are offered by specific groups to the family.  The day ends with another special dance performance by the female family members.

 After the public funeral is over, the gong is beaten and the villagers end their fast and return to normal life. However, the liminal period continues for the family for another forty days.  During the forty day period, they continue to wear their funeral cloths and settle affaris. Contributions are added up and the remaining debt incurred by the funeral is divided up between family members. They do return to their normal work during this time, but they must have discussions to consider who will be appointed successor (in the case that the deceased is a male). At the end of the forty days the family reconvenes and decides on the best candidate for this position. The one chosen inherits the deceased’s material belongings as well as his responsibilities. A libation is poured to honor the deceased once more, and this brings the funeral to an end.



Reference Maps

Imagery of the Afterlife



African Art  Homepage



Kongo-style in the US

 Works Cited