Height: 119 cm
Width: 71 cm
Length: 243 cm
Room 24: Living and Dying
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Coffin in the shape of an eagle
This wooden coffin in the form of eagle with painted gold feather markings was made in the village of Teshie in Ghana. It is lined with silk and red textiles and stands on a green platform with carrying handles in each corner.
The Ga people live in the south-east coast of Ghana, including Accra the capital city. They revere their ancestors and give great importance to funeral celebrations. From the early 1950s they became well-known for developing a new tradition of beautifully carved figurative coffins. This practice is said to have originated in Teshie, a fishing community in Accra. The earliest example was made in 1951 by two carpenters, Kane Quaye and his brother Ajetey, who made a coffin in the form of an airplane to bury their grandmother in 1951. This new style was successful in the community and Kane Quaye developed it further with his apprentice Paa Joe. Such artistic coffins have become very popular in Ghana and internationally.
Ga coffins are made by specialist carpenters. The carpenter will first make a drawing following a brief from the deceased’s relatives. Families commission coffins representing the life achievements or dreams of a deceased relative, or characterising their personality such as an eagle, a car, a plane, a bible, a fish, or a camera. Sometimes the deceased will have prepared a design brief during his or her lifetime. Coffins are made of wood and then painted. The deceased's body is washed, dressed, adorned and laid out with the coffin open during the wake. The coffin is then closed and carried to the burial ground.
This coffin was made in the workshop of Paa Joe, who was trained by Kane Quaye. It was bought from the workshop by the British Museum in 2000.