is a computer operator. She has a little less than forty years
and is a niece of George Dowuona. He died July 2 and was buried
last Saturday, Sept. 5 in a coffin-shaped Red Fish produced by
the workshop. Invited to the funeral, I had the opportunity to
explain to Mary what I was doing. She spontaneously agreed to
grant me an interview which took place a few days later in Osu.
George was the brother of my father. He died at age 49, he had
smoked and drank a lot but it was a very quiet man. He was a fisherman.
We are a family of fishermen. He learned the trade from my grandfather
and when he died, he managed to buy his boat, motors, all the
equipment. He started on his own. As the market is much better
at Sekondi, he left to settle there. The fishing went well.
Some leave in the morning about five and a half hours or six hours
and return at about six o'clock in the evening. It's called "go-come".
But he was doing what we call lagas : they go to sea for a full
week. Aboard the boat, they may be five or seven. Before leaving
they calculate everything they need to take for a week of sailing:
fuel, ice to preserve fish, rice, cooking oil... Of course, they
eat the fish they catch. The boats are not very big but in the
box there is all that is needed. To stay longer than a week, we
would need to load more reserves. They have no radio and there
are accidents, as with the big boats at night who do not see them.
Once a boat was overturned. Of the seven fishermen, only one was
saved. They know the sea and where the fish is hiding: sometimes,
they sail for two days without fish, just to get to the scene.
They may bring 70 or 80 boxes of fish when it works well. When
George fell ill, he returned to Accra. Then he died July 2. I
am the secretary of the family, so I was given a portion of the
funeral arrangements. It is me who kept all the accounts in the
For the choice of coffin, it was during a family reunion that
one of George’s daughter who was sixteen or seventeen years,
no more, stood up and said she had just had a vision , a revelation
that his father had to be buried in a fish-shaped coffin.
The family then decided to do it. In fact, my grandfather was
Wulei Atse that is to say, the traditional chief of the fishermen
in Osu and it had already used a fish-shaped coffin. This was
more than twenty years ago. Kane Kwei had made the coffin. So
I went to
look in Teshie for carpenters specialised in design coffins and
I found this shop by chance. I had seen another one just before
where the coffins were also exposed but I had not stopped.
They welcomed me, I was shown photos of all the models they could
do. I was with my brother who is a fisherman. He saw one fish
in particular in the album: the red fish called Tsila Ga. George
caught in large quantities often, that's why we decided to choose
it as a model for the coffin. I am the one who asked for the small
sculpture that was on top of the coffin, the canoe with three
men. For everybody to see that he was a fisherman with his boat.
Once the choice of model was made, I discussed the price with
Eric. The design coffin is more expensive than an ordinary one
that we can get from 100 GHC. But Eric has made an effort and
we agreed on a price. I was back with a little more than half
of the sum to confirm the order, then a week later with the balance.
The coffin was built but not yet painted. Eric explained to me
that's he needed the date of the funeral to paint it only a few
days before so the colors do not go and remain brilliant.
The tradition is also that on the day we take delivery of the
coffin, to bring two bottles to the carpenter: a gin and one Castle
Bridge (beer). It has changed a bit: youth now prefer money so
they can share. So I gave a sum that corresponds to the price
of two bottles.
The family discovered the coffin on the same day of the funeral,
no one had seen it before apart from those who went looking for
it. Everyone was admiring.
must have been about a thousand people at the funeral ... it is
very simple: we had originally rented 500 chairs for Friday evening.
We saw that was not enough, so I ordered 350 more. And 100 more
on Saturday. It's been 950 and there were still people standing
All the money we have taken are recorded in a notebook, I can
show it. In all, we spent 30 million cedis for the funeral and
mortuary where he had to rest two months (we had to pay 4.21 million
cedis just for that). With 30 million we have rented chairs, paid
for drinks and food for everyone, musicians, casket. Finally,
the coffin is not what comes the most expensive.
Before, the children of the deceased did not pay. Now it depends
on the family. We are eleven children and we decided to participate
for one million each. Parents and brothers have given two million
each. That's how we have done.
When a fisherman dies, his friends with whom he had worked use
to carry him themselves at the cemetery. It's tradition. It's
a way to show love, as an honor or a last gift. In George's case
it was a little difficult because part of the family did not want
it ... My father is a pastor, and church people are not always
in agreement that the casket is paraded around as we did before
arriving at the cemetery. Some in the family would have preferred
an ambulance or a hearse. George's colleagues were furious when
they realized they could not possibly carry him themselves. I
realized that it could escalate and I talked with my father who
finally agreed that the body should be carried. Otherwise, fishermen
could fight with the pastor, with knives, broken bottles, to retrieve
the body and bring it forcibly to the cemetery. And that we do
It's the fishermen who had put real fish in the mouth of the fish-coffin
and in the little boat. These fish were just Tsele, the red fish.
When they stopped on the road it was to pour libations. We stopped
at a bar where George used to go. His friends have poured beer
and gin on the coffin. They spoke to him too. Gave him messages
to convey to others who had died before. In the tradition, it
also asks the deceased to say - as soon as he reaches - if it's
someone who killed him. If so, he must come back and bring back
this one with him.
Finally the funeral went well. Nobody fought and that's good.
At one point, when we stopped at the house of my grandfather there
were discussions because those of Osu wanted to carry again. They
began to get angry with those colleagues who had come from Sekondi
and had much carried. This is where I arrived and I told them
that I too had the right to carry it, it was my uncle and there
was no reason why I do not carry. They agreed and I could carry
it. It has avoided a fight.
It was heavy, it was not easy. But I did. I do not know how to
say, I was happy when I carried it. It is important that I have
done it. Normally they are only men who do carry, but here they
let us do it with my aunt. It was really good.