Blog 6: Most awkward moment of our lives
Everything here qualifies as a new experience to us, but a couple things we’ve done stand out from the rest. The first being when Daniel took us to a funeral a couple weeks ago. When someone passes away here in Ghana, the family honors the person by throwing a funeral followed by a celebration. This entire process usually takes place over a week. On Saturday, the body is carried, sometimes long distances, to where it will be buried while family and friends walk behind the casket.
The front of a funeral procession here in Ghana. The casket is being carried on the heads of the deceased person’s relatives; not a car. Yes they walk right through traffic.
Here you can see the entire group of people walking down the road behind that casket, paying their respects to the one who passed away.
Once the person is laid to rest, the attendees of the funeral return to the location where the body was previously kept and begin to celebrate the life of their loved one. This is the part of the funeral that Amanda and I were privileged enough to be able to attend. After driving out of Accra and up into the mountains for a couple hours we finally arrived in the region where Daniel grew up. After asking about 10 different people on the side of the road for directions (we definitely missed our smart phones and Garmin at this point) we finally spotted a few attendees of the funeral walking down the street and were able to get reliable directions from them. You can tell who is attending a funeral, because the burial process followed by a party is always held on a Saturday and the attendees are expected to wear only red and black, unless you’re a grandchild of the person who passed away, then you should wear white and black. On Sunday, the funeral is continued when guests show up in white and black with the grandchildren wearing red and black. The grandchildren are differentiated from the other people at the funeral so it’s easier to identify them as they serve the guests water and help to greet attendees.
A group of people on the side of the road who are dressed for a funeral.
So anyway, when we arrived at the funeral, we drove past it and went down the road a little ways so that Daniel could put on his cloth. This is a more traditional garment which is worn by men and demands respect by others in the community. Tribal leaders and elders will always be found in this type of garment, while others will wear this garment for special occasions.
Two men wearing their traditional woven kente as they walk to the funeral. If you wear a color other than black to a funeral (besides the above-mentioned exceptions) it is considered improper dress.
After the wardrobe change, we headed back to the funeral. Behind a house there were a series of two tents set up like a T that were wrapped around a building that looked like a shelter house. We entered under the first tent and Daniel began to shake everyone’s hands. As we walked beside him, we began to realize we were getting dirty looks and then someone pointed out to us that we were being rude by not greeting everyone who was already paying their respects under this first tent. So we walked back to the beginning of the tent and shook everyone’s hands, trying to figure out what it is we were supposed to be saying to them to greet them and say “sorry for your lost”, as we are accustomed to saying. After we got done butchering the only greetings that we knew (some “akwaaba” and “akiye”), we joined Daniel at the end of the tent. He pointed out that the shelter house that was against the next tent had a tribal chief and members of the royal family sitting in it. It was at this point that we realized the deceased was of the royal family in the area. Minor detail with major implications for funeral etiquette!
As we waited for permission from the chief to enter the next area of the funeral, the hosts of our current tent brought us chairs (front and center so we could be seen by all). Before we knew it the extremely loud music was turned off and someone was speaking in a local dialect over the loudspeaker. Then Daniel was walking straight for the chief and we weren’t quite sure if we were supposed to follow behind him or wait for him to come back. It didn’t take much time for other people to realize we didn’t want to move and we were soon ushered out of our tent and pushed towards the chief. Jessica was the first to shake his hand and not knowing the custom or wanting to be rude, she was afraid to look him in the eye. It’s better to be awkward than offensive, we guessed. Amanda followed along and did a normal American handshake (which was apparently a lot more acceptable than the timid one they had received before). By the 3rd handshake, we were stopped and shown by a member of the royal family how to shake hands properly and what to say. But to be honest, we were both so nervous that even if they spoke English, we probably wouldn’t remember what they said.
After that ball of awkwardness, we headed back across everyone to shake the mourner hands’ in the second tent before returning back to the safety of our chairs. We were then offered water by our hosts and watched some dancing. A man walked up and apparently asked permission to dance from the chief, which was allowed. So he began to dance and the royals acknowledged this by holding their arms out with two fingers extended in his direction. Soon a couple others joined in and this was followed by more appreciation. We were surprised by how happy everyone was. Daniel explained that deceased had been buried, the crying was done in the morning, and now it was time to celebrate the life of the deceased and take their mind off of their grief.
As we watched the dancing, Daniel apparently went to make a donation on his and our behalf to help support the cost of the funeral. After the song had finished, the music cut out and someone started saying something in another language about wanting dollars from us, which everyone thought was hilarious. Then before we knew it, most everybody at the funeral was lined up to shake our hands and we each received a handkerchief in return for our contribution.</p><p>It was at this point that we noticed that there was someone filming us as we sat there and shook everyone’s hands and talked to each other. We figured it would be really rude to take pictures there (hence why this part of the blog doesn’t have any pictures), but apparently it was very important to them that they get video evidence of our presence as it showed the deceased as someone who demanded great respect.
Not too long after the last round of hand shaking the tribal leaders left and we all stood as they walked by to show respect. We followed suit and headed home a few minutes later. As we went to our car we realized how normal the leaders are in this modern society as they laughed and joked with other people on the side of the road and tried to hail taxis. We’re very thankful we were able to experience this part of Ghanaian culture, even though it was definitely the most embarrassing and awkward moment of our lives.
We leave you with a picture of one of our $10 dinners in Cape Coast last night. Imagine us eating this on a beach next to the ocean, and start planning your own trip to Ghana!
Until next time,
Auntie Amanda and Auntie Jessica