“In Ghana, the funeral is where people meet and fall in love,” said our tour guide in Kumasi region, and it has been stuck in my mind ever since.
If you ask me one thing that really struck me as a cultural shock in Ghana, I would say it is the funeral. In Chinese culture, funerals are usually very somber and quiet. We believe that too much noise would disturb the dead, so even the background music of a funeral is slow and low tuned. So when Mr. Hooper, my friend Ahana’s homestay, casually led us into a gathering on Friday night and told us it is a funeral, I refused to believe him. The drumming, the singing, the big tents carefully decorated with red and black ribbon, the fast rhythm, the jamming people… everything was great but nothing correlated with funerals in my head. God forbid, but it was more exciting than many Davidson court parties.
I walked out of the funeral completely in awe, shocked not only by the loudness of the crowd but also by the lack of sadness in general. How could this be a funeral? How could this link up to a person’s death? I can’t imagine what would happen if I randomly start playing drum or clapping in a Chinese funeral. I probably would be kicked out before I could see the coffin.
I still remember my great grandma’s funeral I attended at age 10. It was a place you couldn’t help but feel sad. It took place in a cold lobby decorated with white ribbons and flowers. We stood in circles around the coffin which contain the cold corpse of my great grandma and took turns to share our carefully written speech. Everything was so formal, silent and reserved; even the crying was quiet sobbing. I could literally sense the sorrow, fear, and hopelessness hanging above the coffin, so I cried as hard as I could although I have only met my great grandma three times ever in my life.
When I shared my funeral experience with a Ghanaian friend, he told me that funerals here are generally big parties. You don’t need an invitation to go to a funeral, and the more people show up, the better. Moreover, I learned that a funeral party normally starts on Friday and would last the whole Saturday with more loud music, dancing, drinking and mingling of the crowd. “Chill, you did not even go to the real party,” said my friend.
After digesting the information my friend gave me, I began to understand and appreciate the Ghanaian style funeral. It reminds me of a cheesy saying: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” Instead of mourning the death, Ghanaian funeral is a celebration of life. Although a person has passed away, his or her presence in the world is remembered and celebrated and continues to bring people joy. How beautiful! I wish that on my own funeral (hopefully won’t happen till 70 years later), people would feel free to play loud music, sing, drink and dance as well. I wish they would sit around, slightly tipsy, laughing and joking about the embarrassing stories of mine. I wish some random foreigners would feel comfortable to walk in without knowing me. I wish two lovely young people would meet and fall in love.
That is something I would totally brag about in the afterworld. “Hey, you know what, my funeral was so much fun. It even gave birth to two new couples.”