Functional coffins made by specialized carpenters in the Greater Accra Region in Ghana, formerly used only to carry (and sometimes bury) the Ga chiefs and priests, but that became an integral part of the local funeral culture in the late 1950s.
In the southern Ghana-based Ga community, people believe that death is not the end and that life continues in another world, in the same way it did on earth. Consequently, the burial is very ritualised, from the ceremony to the coffin. The figurative coffins are produced only to order. They are generally made from the wood of the local wawa tree and then painted. A coffin will take two to six weeks to produce, depending on the complexity of the construction and the carpenters’ level of experience. In urgent cases several carpenters will work on a single item.
Fantasy coffins are only seen on the day of the burial and are then buried with the deceased. They often symbolise the dead people’s professions. Certain shapes, such as a sword or stool coffin, represent regal or priestly insignia with a magical and religious function. Only people with the appropriate status and heads of the families are allowed to be buried in these types of coffins. Various animals, such as lions, cockerels and crabs can represent clan totems. Many coffin shapes also evoke proverbs, which are interpreted in different ways by the Ga, hence the nickname proverbial coffins.