The Institution of Funerals in Ghana, West Africa
Funerals are and always have been one of the main social events in the traditional Ghanaian community (Geest 2000: 103). It may sound abysmally strange but funerals in Ghana play different roles ranging from social, economic, cultural and religious. It serves as a ceremony to bring people together. Sometimes quarrels and misunderstanding are mediated during funerals as people reconsider their perception about the living and the dead. Rich family heritages and customs are portrayed during funerals. A historic importance of funerals includes the preservation of cultural practices. These practices have evolved over time with significant and observable changes. In this paper, I attempt to explain these changes in funeral practices with the concept of deinstitutionalization. The Theory of institution sets a good platform to understand the features of funerals that make it function as an institution in Ghana and its subsequent evolution. I have shared light on some abandoned practices and explained why I reckon these practices eroded overtime. The explanation for the gradual dissipation is embedded in Oliver’s (2001) set of political, functional and social pressures. The disappearance of some of these practices made way for current trends of which I have discussed later in the paper. Funerals as Institution
The concept of institution is difficult to associate a single definition and hence making it very fluid. Institutions could be simply seen as set of established behaviour by a group or rules guiding a group. It provides a framework for society to satisfy its needs like order, coexistence, stability, family, education etc. According to Peter Berger, “institutions provide procedures through which human conduct is patterned, compelled to go, in grooves deemed desirable by society. And this trick is performed by making these grooves appear to the individual as the only possible ones” (Berger, 1963:87). Berger’s (1963) definition suggests institutions strive on rules and collectivism by the society. Institution could be informal (as mutually shared ideas and values by colleagues) or as formal as legislatively determined laws. One key definitive feature of an institution is it structural feature and this is evident in how funerals are organized in Ghana. This structural framework is guided by set of regulations and rules. Also In describing funerals as institution, I would emphasis on the structural framework of how funerals function in Ghana. As a relevant start off, when mourning the dead in Ghana, colour plays a visually symbolic significance evident in all tribes. The colour of dress worn helps establish identity and relationships of bereaved family members to the deceased. Though different shade are used today at funerals there remains 3 main colours; white (fufuo), black (tuntum) and Red (korkor). These colours reflect traditional cultural values and spirituality. White is worn to celebrate the death of an elderly symbolizing a new ancestor. Also white is worn to funerals of priest to depict purity and sanctity. Friends and non-matrilineal relatives wear black. Close family member wear red cloths. A red strip of band is tied on the head and arms of mourners. Another definitive characteristic of funerals in Ghana are the order of funeral rites and the intervals in celebrating the dead. The actual funeral rite begins with the corpse laid in state in the morning to be bided final fare well by friends and relatives, then the burial service where the body is buried or cremated. A post burial service is performed amidst feasting, drumming and dancing. Also, in the spirit of community support for each other, guest are expected to contribute in cash or in-kind towards the cost incurred in organizing the funeral and to provide support for the family of the deceased especially if he/she left behind kids. There are defined intervals deceased are remembered and...
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