Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Reports that relatives of the deceased at the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital are hard pressed over having the remains of their dead kinsfolk preserved, while burial arrangements are being made, because one of the two mortuary refrigerators serving this purpose has been out of service for several weeks now, ought to give great pause for thought over the way and manner in which funerals are conducted and/or celebrated in Fourth-Republican postcolonial Ghana (See “Dead Bodies Lie in the Open at Bolga” TV3Network / Ghanaweb 1/22/14).

 

When I first came across the afore-referenced caption, I thought another primitive bout of inter-ethnic hostilities had broken out, once again, in this veritable tinder-box enclave of perennial and seemingly interminable warring of the upper-East Region, and so I was tempted to snort with utter disdain and move on to the other news stories. And then I cursorily glanced at the lead paragraph and decided that this was, after all, a worthwhile story to comment on.

 

What is obvious from the story, and one that has been known for quite an ancient while now, is the fact that like most of our Third World counterparts, Ghanaians have an extremely difficult time maintaining our foreign-acquired – largely Western – technological amenities. This anomaly is further complicated by the fact that even as the unsavory culture of technological neglect heightens, Ghanaians appear to become even more heavily dependent on the same dysfunctional technological facilities.

 

And so what we practically have here is a functional disconnect between maintenance and use, whose logical result is poignantly exemplified by the sort of emotional distress being reportedly suffered by the relatives of the naturally deceased in the Bolgatanga municipality. Of course, it ought to be quickly pointed out that the depressing mortuary situation in the Upper-East regional capital is more representative of the norm than the anomaly. What is pathetic,however, is that the country has more than its fair share of well-trained air-conditioning and refrigeration technicians to promptly? deal with the problem.

 

And so, the real question regarding such neglect may well lie somewhere between abject managerial incompetence and deliberately engineered dearth of financial resources for acquiring the requisite expertise to remedy the situation. It is also quite clear that we promptly need to reform our incontestably nauseating vacuous culture of refrigerating the mortal remains of our deceased relatives for weeks, months and sometimes even years, until these corpses have variedly decomposed beyond recognition prior to their laying in state and burial.

 

Somebody that I know, but for present purposes shall remain anonymous, has pointedly characterized this needlessly drawn-out funerary culture as “tearless funerals.” For by the time that the funeral and burial rituals are scheduled and executed, most prospective mourners and sympathizers would have long exhausted themselves of their tear glands and/or completely lost any sense of the cathartic experience routinely associated with such rites-of-passage.

 

The paradox here also inheres in the fact that it is often the financially strapped (or improvident) who push themselves through such harrowing experiences. In many cases, serious conflicts break out among hitherto cordial relatives as a result of the huge financial burden racked up by the funerary festivities. Here in the United States, for example, even deceased millionaires and billionaires are buried within two weeks of their expiration in most cases; and these include prominent politicians and former presidents. Exceptions are deaths that occasion plausible suspicions.

 

I think it is not in any way far-fetched to observe that Ghanaians have quite a lot that is meaningful to learn from this common sense cultural praxis of funerary moderation. Now don’t tell me that African culture is different; refrigeration of dead humans is nowhere codified in any traditional African culture, Mamprusi or Akan!

 

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*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Department of English

Nassau Community College of SUNY

Garden City, New York

Jan. 23, 2014

E-mail: [email protected]

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