Fantasy Coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston
Coffins You Must See to Believe!
Custom coffins are not a new idea. History can show us many examples from the past and even the present. However, the symbolic ones from the Greater Accra Region of Ghana created primarily since the 1950s are the most distinctive and eye-catching ones that I have ever seen.
Seth Kane Kwei (also known as Kane Quaye) was a member of Ga, an ethnic group of people located in Ghana. Most of the original Ga people farmed and fished for a living; however many have also gotten into trading and other professions to earn a living. Seth Kane Kwei became a highly skilled carpenter.
It is interesting to learn that women in the Ga culture typically control the money and inheritances of wealth occur along matrilineal lines of descent. Men live in men’s compounds, and the women and children live in women’s compounds.
When people in that culture die, a strong belief in an afterlife exists. Their ancestors become even more powerful than the living according to their ideas. Thus their funerals are causes for celebration. Coffins carried to the gravesites are accompanied by people singing, dancing and celebrating their departed one’s new status beyond the grave.
Since the 1950s lavish fantasy coffins created at the Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop in Teshie, Ghana (a suburb of Accra which is the capital of Ghana) has become well-known for this type of coffin artistry. Former apprentices who studied under Kane Kwei and his heirs are now doing this type of creativity in other workshops in the area.
Chiefs and other leaders first had these elaborate and fanciful coffins, but widespread use of them has mushroomed since the 1960s in Ghana.
Many of the people living in Ghana are of the Christian faith. These types of figurative fantasy coffins are not allowed in church ceremonies. The church likens them to fetishism. Thus Christians who also believe in reincarnation often have their sanctioned church ceremony first, then followed by burial in their artfully created coffin of choice.
The fantasy coffins can cost $400 to $600 or even more. Considering that many people (according to Wikipedia) in Ghana only earn around $50 a month, this cost is enormous. All members of a family or the greater community chip in to pay for these artful coffins. They wish for their ancestors to have the same social status and riches in the next life as they did in this one.
The coffins relate to the person’s occupation, status in the community or even their personality traits. People who farmed for a living might choose a coffin that has an appearance of onion, carrot, shallot or pumpkin as an example. Fishers might want a boat, fish or similar object as a coffin. The coffins are meant to reflect the essence of the person who has passed on to the next life.
Since 1989 these figurative coffins have become better known because of art exhibitions in numerous countries. The twelve coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History is the most extensive collection of them outside of Ghana originating from the Kane Kwei workshop. Those used as objects of art for display purposes are built using sturdier wood than those used as actual funeral coffins.
Most of these fantasy coffins have brief lives after being created. They return to dust along with their mortal contents but live long in the memories of the Ghana community members. The coffins which become museum exhibits such as these take on a different life as fascinating pieces of sculptural art depicting a far-off culture and funeral experience of people far from where we live.
There are plenty of other unusual and curious looking coffins as well as caskets on display in addition to these fantasy coffins. Are you familiar with the auto customizer by the name of George Barris? He created the Batmobile and the Munster Koach among others. My husband and I got to see an officially licensed replica of the Batmobile at the 7th annual car show at Towne Lake one year. That was fun!
See a replica of his casket below.
Other coffins and caskets of interest include these among others:
- See a replica of the custom-made coffin of Abraham Lincoln.
- View the actual one-of-a-kind glass casket created for Snow White.
- Learn about three nested papal coffins.
- Look at a custom casket for three and learn about the story behind its creation.
- Observe the same model and style of casket used for the funeral of President John F. Kennedy.
- There is even an unusual money casket on display!
Interesting note: Are you aware that the term casket originally meant jewelry box? You can learn much more about the differences in coffins and caskets by clicking here.
There is so much more to learn by visiting this captivating museum. These coffins and caskets are just one small example of what you will find there. The address of the National Museum of Funeral History is 415 Barren Springs Drive, Houston, Texas 77090-5918.
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