QUOTE: "My grandmother's funeral in Ghana span a number of days. I learnt a lot about my people but the Westerner in me wondered 'Don't this people work?'"
Late last year, I travelled through Europe and was intrigued by countries like the UK where they have efficient public transportation systems. It is no wonder that a little mud island managed to conquer large parts of this world. It got me thinking – is it that we Africans just can't get things right, or perhaps are we comparing ourselves to a western way of living which is clearly not a natural way of life for us.
When my father left us in Ghana in early 1982 to move to SA, we couldn't go with him because my mother was pregnant. While he was away, my parents' friends, neighbours and relatives were more than willing to assist. I remember many an aunt coming and bringing food over. I noted the same thing when we moved to Umtata; it is inherently African.
On my return from Europe, I heard that my grandmother had passed away. We attended the funeral a few weeks later. Even though it was a rather sad occasion, it was a fantastic experience because I learnt quite a bit about my people.
The funeral activities began on a Wednesday when we went to the family home where we sat and talked for several hours. Later that evening my gran's body was brought to the house.
Ashanti's hold the dearly departed in high regard, so prior to burial a body is well 'prepared' for passage into the afterlife. With my grandfather having passed away decades ago, my father was responsible for this process.
First, some palm kernel is chewed and used to prepare her hands and feet, the old school manicure and pedicure. Some lime is provided which is cut in half and used under the arms to eliminate odours. Thereafter they take a bucket, sponge, soap, towel, chewing stick (old school tooth brush) and lotion; she gets a good washing. She then gets dressed with some beads around her waist called Amoase and very stylish cloth before being laid on her kete (mat).
The following day was the burial day. We all wore dark brown and black cloth and arrived at the family home at 6.30 a.m. where we said our goodbyes. I expected something to happen, but nope, we just sat as people played drums and sang quite badly. At noon, there was a church service where after we made our way to my gran's village where she was to be buried in the royal cemetery. We once again sat around my cousin, the Chief's house for a few hours because members of the royal family are buried at a certain time in the evening.
Friday was a day off and on Saturday we dressed in red attire which was to symbolize the fact that we were serious. Ghanaians are such generous people and I now understand why life insurance isn't big in that country. My uncle and aunts spend so much time going to funerals and I now know why. People sang, told Nana Mary's life story, and much money was donated by those that attended to help the family with the costs of the funeral. Each donor was named together with their connection to the deceased. This is what it is all about; looking after the elderly, the young and your fellow man. We then spent plenty of time doing a traditional dance called Adowa. On Sunday, we went to church dressed in white to give thanks for the 94 years of her life.
All days were well attended and the Westerner in me kept on wondering "don't these people work". But still I say, as an Ashanti raised in Xhosaland, we Africans are rich in heritage and innately humane.