Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Funerals - It's A Rip Off!

A Touch Of Nokoko By Kofi Akumanyi

How on earth can any corpse RIP (rest in peace) in these days of high inflation? The economic recession has hit everybody's pocket but one area which is enjoying a boom is reported to be funeral services. Open Space (BBC2 programme) claims that Undertakers have been reaping grim harvest in the recession and people have been bankrupted by burying their dead.

The state funeral grant is £30 but one woman, Wyn Cheshire, for instance, spent more than £1,000 on burying her husband, Jim: the hole in the ground alone cost £177!

Funerals in most societies are not things to be taken lightly. The death of a loved one usually leaves a sense of permanent loss, grief and pity from friends and relations - which is quite understandable even though human beings, somehow, have never really accepted the inevitability of death.

What is not understandable to many of us still breathing is this phenomenon of rising cost of burying dead in the United Kingdom. Considering the bare fact that like everything else that big organised business has touched, the disposal of the mortal remains of man is now being handled with clinical efficiency completely devoid of the emotional involvement common in hotter climes and cultures, I cannot understand why the all pervading computerisation and robots which is fast taking over peoples' jobs have not been introduced to cut down cost.

Take the demise of local Mr Average, for instance. The announcement of his death may never appear in the prestigious Times newspapers obituary column which is usually reserved for the country's aristocrats, the "landed gentry", business tycoons and generally those who wield social and economic clout. Indeed, when The Times was engaged in a protracted negotiation with the Print Unions during which the paper was not published, the joke was that Britain's upper class refused to die!

Well, Mr Average may only be lucky to manage a brief obituary notice on the notice board of wherever he was employed. And if he was well-up on the hierarchy he may be given a one- minute silence. Then it would be business as usual. Compare this to a country like Nigeria where the dead are advertised in full pages in newspapers. In an effort to cut down mounting funeral expenses, one local council in the UK recently announced its own plans to operate undertakers' business and reduce the going rate by twenty per cent. The local undertakers association would not take this infringement on their sacred territories lying down. They charged that the council was qualified to deal with terrestrial matters and therefore must leave celestial arrangements to those who are best suited for the job. There is a stalemate which is yet to be resolved.

Across the great watery divide of Africa, funeral expenses have gone through the roofs (except, perhaps, in the famine ravaged areas). Even there, funerals are no events to toy with. In a cultural arrangement where the dead man's importance in the society is measured or estimated according to the lavishness of his funeral, no expense is spared to put up a ridiculously expensive show which very often leaves families bankrupt.

It is perhaps against this background that an 8-man committee on funerals was set-up last October in Ghana charged with the task of finding acceptable ways of cutting down expenditure on burials, funerals, and the "early disposal of corpses" (of this more later).

The members were to examine various customary rites of all the ethnic groups and find out their differences, similarities and the various religious practices and explore ways of reducing the cost of funerals.

Admittedly, many Ghanaians wish they could do something about high funeral expenses but it is my view that the committee has an uphill task before it. Grave-diggers, coffin and casket manufacturers and other related businesses would without doubt put up a spirited fight to save their jobs. Take the hospitals, for instance. One of the unintended consequences of ever increasing funeral bills is overflowing mortuaries right across the country.

They say, the chic thing to do these days when faced with a funeral and little money is to arrange for the freezing of the body which in some cases are kept in the ice box for three to six months while preparations are made for the festivities. The end result is that too many bodies and few storage places at the mortuary which situation has produced fertile grounds for corruption. I mean, faced with monetary problems, bereaved families have been paying huge amounts to attendants who, realising the harvest, are reported to be pampered and spoiled.

The corruption at Ghana's mortuaries, a contributory factor to escalating funeral bills often produces very bizarre incidents but nothing surpasses that of the corpses of the father of Mr C.C.K. Baah (himself also now deceased) and that of the Otublohun in the early 70's.

Mr Baah's father had died at the same time as the Ga Chief and the usual hassle for an efficient freezing compartment in the Korle-Bu Hospital Mortuary ended up with the two corpses being mixed up on the day of delivery for the funeral rites to begin.

Mr Baah's elaborate plans for a funeral befitting the father of a big businessman's status went ahead without anybody in the family realising that they were dealing with the wrong corpse. Meanwhile the Otublohum people did not quite like the looks of their chief even though some relatives were saying that the cold hand of death and the long incarceration inside the freezer might have done something to the old man's features.

When eventually one of the deceased chief's wives insisted that the man was definitely not the husband she married, investigations at the mortuary led to Mr C. C. K. Baah's house where the old man's funeral ceremonies were on full swing. The resulting confusion could very well be imagined!

The writing is on the wall for all future corpses to see. Like everything else in the world today, high prices have become a permanent feature so how about a funeral insurance?

At least even if you do not like where you are going, you can, at least, rest assured that you will get there in a decent way. Wake in pub When 70-year-old George Taylor saw inflation eating into the money he had set aside for his funeral wake, he decided to have it early- and turn up himself.

The former bank worker of Netherton, Dudley, West Midlands, joined 50 friends and relatives at the Sarecen's Head, Dudley, where he is a regular. He said yesterday: "They all had a good time, including the vicar. But I hope to make 100 yet.

talking drums 1985-04-22 doe's ride to the presidency - general hannnaniya - gifex 1985