Africa

The fabulous coffins of Ghana

Updated 5:24 AM ET, Mon December 5, 2016
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Funerals are often uplifting occasions in Ghana, where it is widely believed that death is the beginning of an afterlife, and the deceased should receive a rapturous send off.

A tradition has emerged within this culture of "proverb coffins" (abebuu adekai), which pay tribute to the occupant with a personalized and often spectacular design.
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According to legend, the first abebuu adekai was created in the 1950s when a "palanquin" carriage was made for a tribal leader in the shape of a cocoa pod. But the leader died suddenly, and quick-thinking subjects buried him in the pod.

This inspired young carpenter Seth Kane Kwei to establish his own novelty coffin studio in the town of Teshie, and the The Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop (above) remains popular to this day.
Jean-Michel Rousset/Wiki commons
One of the first creations of the workshop was this coffin for Kane Kwei's grandmother, who had never traveled in a plane but was fascinated by the new mode of transport.

Shortly after, a boat design was requested for a fisherman, and the practice was up and running.
Courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery'
The abebuu adekai spread rapidly through the Greater Accra Region, with many of the leading figures emerging from the Kane Kwei stable.

Legendary carpenter Paa Joe, seen with a piano design, was Kwei's nephew and apprentice, and he went on to establish his own popular studio.
Regula Tschumi/wiki commons
Daniel "Hello" Mensah, was an apprentice for Paa Joe, before launching his own practice the "Hello Design Coffin Works." Regula Tschumi/Wiki commons
The coffins have become increasingly creative as the industry is established. This one is a crayfish at the "Hello" studio. STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
This may have been ordered for a photographer. STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
One customer will be well dressed at their funeral. ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Creating the coffins is intensive labor, and can take several weeks to produce.

The artisans typically use light, white wood from the indigenous Wawa tree, although mahogany is sometimes used for exports.
STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Most of the coffins for local sales cost under $1,000, although pieces sold abroad can be more expensive.

The record price for abebuu adekai is a Paa Joe design that fetched $7930 through a London auction house.
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Many works from Kane Kwei alumni have been featured at leading art galleries around the world, such as this piece from Paa Joe at the Jack Bell gallery in London. Courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery
This spicy design was on display in Osnabrueck, northern Germany, also from Paa Joe. DAVID HECKER/DDP/AFP/Getty Images
This coffin carved in the shape of a frilled lizard was made by the Paa Joe workshop for Festival Melbourne 2006. Courtesy WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
The original Kane Kwei workshop is still thriving under the leadership of his son Cedi Anang and grandson Eric Adjetey Anang.

The shop reportedly produces up to 20 coffins each month, and sends around 100 abroad each year.
Ghana coffin
There are now at least a dozen workshops in the Accra region and a growing market for abebuu adekai. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Few designs are off-limits, as this machine gun coffin indicates. KAMBOU SIA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Animals remain popular choice, such as this red rooster. Regula Tschumi/wiki commons
The airplane design that was first created for Kane Kwei's grandmother remains a firm favorite. ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images