According to Ghana’s custom and tradition, which has been upheld by the law courts, once someone dies, the body belongs to the family.
You would think you know what and who constitutes family, but once there is a death, the definition of family changes completely. Funerals are lavish affairs where the deceased’s family spends an inordinate amount of money to feed and entertain large numbers of people, therefore indicating how important the person was in life.
This isn’t the case within some Christian tribes of Ghana who can leave loved ones in cold storage for up to a year and, in the most famous case in the country, five years, in order to prepare and save money for the funeral.
This “family” and this chief mourner might not have seen or spoken for the past 30 years with the dearly departed, but they are deemed to know more about the dead person than the spouse and the children.
There then follows the interminable meetings which are presided over by this “family”, where the word of the spouse and children can be ignored.
It then takes weeks to draw up an obituary notice and it is an intricate business getting the list of the mourners in the right order.
So the next time you see an obituary notice in a Ghanaian newspaper, you better be appreciative of the amount of work that went into drawing it up to ensure no offense has been caused and family feuds have not been started or old ones rekindled.
The choice of the chief mourner is critical because he is not only in charge of the funeral, he, and it is always he, never she has the ultimate word on who succeeds the deceased.
All this while the body has to be kept in the fridge as there will be disputes about when and where to bury the dead person.
Not surprising therefore that we often end up in court with injunctions preventing anybody from moving the dead bodies. Sometimes the delay has nothing to do with disputes. We take seriously the idea of giving the dead a befitting burial.
We refurbish the house in which the dearly departed lived and died or sometimes a new house has to be built to be able to stage a spectacular funeral. That takes time.
If you want certain important personalities to be at the funeral, then a suitable date that would accommodate various diaries will have to be negotiated. And that takes time.
Now the regular period in which a dead body is kept in the mortuary before being buried ranges from three to six months. Ten months to a year is not unheard of.
When you try to bury someone within a period that is regarded as “too early”, you are certain to invoke outrage. Without fridges, we would not be able to keep bodies for the ludicrously long periods we currently do.
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