To the Grave and Beyond:
A look at funeral rituals and traditions from various West African cultures

Reference Maps

Imagery of the Afterlife



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Kongo-style in the US

 Works Cited



* The information on this page was gathered primarily from two sources, Pamela McClusky's Art From Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back and an essay by Christine Mullin Kreamer in A Life Well Lived: Fantasy Coffins of Kane Quaye. Pamela McClusky is an art historian who has spent time in Africa with several different ethnic groups including the Ga of Ghana. She composed the book from her studies and experiences during her time there. Kreamer is an academian from the National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian Institution), who is very knowledgeable on Ghanaian art and culture. In composing her essay, she drew from field photographs taken by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, and interviews with coffin makers Paa Joe and Adjetey Kane. She also consulted Nii Quarcoopome, a Ga scholar.

"Every time the Ga people eat or drink, they offer a portion to the ground for their forefathers. Whenever an oath is sworn, it is done so in the name of the dead." (McClusky 247)

 Gblamo: The Ga believe in spiritual incarnation. Their word “gblamo” explains their sense of death. Gblamo means both ‘reincarnation’ and is also the name of a vine that twists around a post. Like a twisting vine, the dead circle around and around in a cycle of life, death and rebirth. Funerals are concrete expressions of their belief in life’s continuing cycle. During funerals, the dead are treated to as much luxury as the family can afford. In this way they give a proper send off to the spirit, guaranteeing its successful passage into the company of the Ga ancestors. For the Ga, it is better to incur lifelong debts than to cut back on funeral expenses.

The successful funeral is one that is well-attended and carefully prepared, involving drumming that moves mourners to express their grief through dance. In many African societies, it is a common belief that if one does not attend the funerals of others, one’s own funeral will not be successful. Therefore, funerals are community-wide events.

 Ancestors: The ancestors constitute the highest status in society. The spirit (susuma) of a person who has not undergone puberty rituals and funerary rites cannot assume ancestor status. Puberty rites are prerequisites to spiritual and social morality because they wash away  "natural pollution" and instill moral norms for adulthood (Kreamer 12).  Funerary rites mark the achievement of the highest and ultimate social status, being ancestral shade or guardian of Ga society. Ancestors are a critical component in Ga family life. The family comprises two categories: living persons and ancestor spirits. The prosperity of the living is thought to depend in part upon the harmonious relationship between these two categories of family members. Ancestors are remembered and honored on a daily basis through prayers and offerings that ask for continued prosperity and good health. They are also honored during the annual Odwira and Homowo festivals.