April 24, 2010

Ghana dance, funerals and culture

I surprised myself, last weekend, when I sat under the mango tree to escape the heat and casually asked, "Whose funeral?" with the same tone of voice I would use for, "Whose wedding?" 

Excitement, curiosity, maybe worth a peek.

A split second later I realised that I had been here so long that I no longer self-censored my words, let alone my thoughts, about a topic that would be considered sensitive in my culture. In Ghana, funerals are less sensitive affairs, although there is still plenty of protocol to follow.  

It was simply that the traditional drums and techno trance beats had floated down the dusty slope to our cool spot under the mango tree and what else would it be but a funeral and why not ask whose. No one actually knew whose, even though it was the family from the village over the rise, but we all knew it was happening.

The duff duff of some kind of dance rave music that sounded more downtown LA than Bolgatanga, Upper East Region Ghana, and traditional drumming and ululations of the women calling, however, were pure Bolga. 

I've had these clips since last year and finally was able to upload them. This funeral took place behind our house and the dancing and drumming extended over a week-long period, as funerals tend to do in this part of Ghana. In southern regions they are more Friday-Sunday affairs. Funerals are such popular events in Ghana that some people become renowned "funeral hoppers": free food and drinks. There are usually so many guests coming and going over the duration that no one notices an extra face or ten.

Students at UCC routinely tracked down weekend funerals around the campus to try and compensate for the high costs of student life. Not Godwin, I should add, but a former room mate apparently made funeral hopping a lucrative hobby.

These ones show a band of dancers and drummers that were hired for entertaining guests over the week long period (we didn't sleep much). They received free alcohol and food to keep their energy up in the heat of the day and long hours of the night--it's non-stop. 

If you do come across a funeral anywhere in Ghana, you're likely to be invited to attend. It can be a really interesting experience. One friend ended up singing Madonna hits in the foothills of the Volta mountains over one weekend with the grieving wife and relatives of the deceased. Another group I knew of viewed the corpse of a former police officer. Only the corpse was dressed in a police uniform and sitting up at a desk, pen in hand, as if signing an official document inside a marquee with a disco ball spinning and music blaring. He'd been sitting there a few days by then and was a bit stinky.

Here, in Bolga, high priority is placed on dancing and drumming particular styles. I can dance pretty well (from belly dancing which I try to make look "somehow" local) and I'm not shy to give it a go. At a funeral in Godwin's village the women approached me, shocked that a white lady could get the moves on and said, "I would die today if you were to dance at my funeral!" 

That's Ghana for you. If you're invited or stumble upon a funeral, go. It could be the highlight of your visit to Ghana. 


  1. This is very interesting. I want to learn more about our sisters and brother.

  2. Thanks, this is one place to do that. Check out the pictures from Dance Ghana too:

  3. This is so interesting to know - the celebration and the letting go.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...