Old people and funerals in a rural Ghanaian community: ambiguities in family care

  • S. van der Geest Medical Anthropology Unit, University of Amsterdam

Abstract

This paper is based on conversations and observations made during anthropological fieldwork conducted in a rural town in southern Ghana. The author views funerals as a form of care which a family provides for old people after death. Both old and younger members of a family regard a fitting funeral as indispensable to mark the life of a person as successful. It is a family's responsibility to arrange a funeral. The author attempts to understand the meaning of funerals for older people, and draws attention to a common discrepancy between the grandness of funeral celebrations and the poor quality of care and moral support which old people enjoy from kin during the last years of their lives. He concludes that funerals are less a matter of showing respect to the deceased and making his/her life complete, as they are occasions for the family to celebrate itself and indulge in self-praise. If the social prestige of a family is at stake at a funeral, it is understandable that the family will be inclined to expend its efforts on public post-mortem, rather than private pre-mortem care. Most older Ghanaians appear to support this view.

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Published
1995-10-01