Going in Style

In Ghana, coffins can be works of art. The tradition is particularly strong among the Ga people of the Greater Accra Region, whose kings were historically borne on figurative palanquins that bore the shapes of their family totems to ensure protection by the associated spirits.

Modern carpenters extended this tradition in the 20th century, dropping the spiritual function and expanding their inspirations to remember the dead one’s occupation or personality. In 1951 two carpenters buried their 91-year-old grandmother in a coffin shaped like an airliner because she had said she often daydreamed of flying. Today businessmen are often buried in coffins shaped like luxury Mercedes, and other recent designs include birds, fish, cars, shoes, butterflies, crabs, pineapples, lions, pigs, mobile phones, books, fire engines, toothpaste tubes, wrenches, cheetahs, eagles, and pianos.