Ghanaian Funeral Brochures: An Unexplored Rich Source of Biographical Information

Article excerpt

Abstract

Death in the Ghanaian society is regarded as one of the rites of passage that mark the transition from the present world to the other. It is believed to extend family relationship into infinity and therefore great effort is put into organising befitting funerals. In planning the funeral, a document, which the paper calls the funeral brochure, is prepared. These funeral brochures have become a valuable source of historical, social and biographical information. This article examines 107 Ghanaian funeral brochures belonging to all classes of people in the society, printed between 1993 and 2006. It provides insight into the various pieces of information contained in these brochures that qualify them as a rich source of biographical information. The paper concludes by calling on librarians to begin acquiring funeral brochures as part of their collections.

Introduction

The paper is based on a study of funeral brochures with special reference to Christian burials and funeral rites. The focus of discussion is the value of these brochures as a rich source of biographical information. Biography is defined as "an account of the series of events making up a person's life; history of a person's life; written account of a person's life; a source that will give background and other personal information about a person". Biography is also defined as a "carefully researched relatively full account of the facts of the life of a particular person or closely related groups of people written by another". The biographer presents in a "continuous narrative, the most interesting and important events, usually with the aim of elucidating character, personality and social context".1

Based on these definitions, this paper defines biographical information, as a carefully researched, full, written account and series of events that make up a person's life, presented in continuous narrative. It provides information that elucidates the character and personality of a person. Ghanaian funeral brochures are discussed to bring out issues that qualify them as carefully researched and written accounts of a person's life. An attempt is also made to look at the type of information these brochures contain stating why they serve as useful sources of biographical information. Brochures that contain peculiar pieces of information are discussed. The paper concludes by suggesting reasons why librarians should begin acquiring funeral brochures as part of library collections.

Background information on funerals

Death is the departure from life. It is when life ends and all life functions in an organism come to a permanent end. According to Opoku (1978), among most West African societies, death does not sever a man's connection with his family. Death is regarded as a transition, one of the four stages of rites of passage, where one proceeds from the present life to another world. They believe it extends the family relationship into infinity and ceremonies and rituals performed all emphasize the unbroken relationship between the living and the dead.

Throughout the world, death is surrounded with rituals, restrictions and most especially, activities like the organization of the funeral. Lamera (1974) defines funerals as "an organized, purposeful, time-limited, flexible, group-oriented response to death". In most modern societies, families often hire professionals to provide services, merchandise to conduct funeral services and to handle various tasks (DeSpelder and Strickland, 2002). However whether a family decides to hire professionals to organise the funeral or to do everything themselves, some amount of preparation is involved.

Ghanaian Funerals

In Ghana, funerals involve a lot of preparation because of the importance attached to them. There are three types of funerals in Ghana: Christian, Islamic and traditional funerals. The Islamic funeral is simple, immediate and less expensive. Muslim burial and funeral services occur as soon after death as possible. …