- Museum number
Coffin (with lid); carved from wood; in the form of elephant; painted brown with black accents, white tusks; trunk raised, ears extended out to sides, tail extended out slightly, mouth slightly open (inside painted pink); eyes white and pink, irises black, pupils white; back of elephant opens to reveal cavity lined with green silk around sides of cavity, red on bottom, red textile on underside of lid.
- Production date
Height: 133 centimetres
Width: 97.50 centimetres
Depth: 279 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- The Ga-speaking people revere the deceased ancestors and give a prime importance to funeral celebrations. Starting from the early 1950s they became renowned for developing a new tradition of beautifully carved figurative coffins. These were inspired by the palanquins carved in the form of eagles which had traditionally been used by chiefs on important occasions. The story says that the new style of coffins originated in Teshie, a fishing community in Accra. It was created in 1951 by two carpenters, Kane Kwei, and his brother Ajetey, who made a coffin in the form of an airplane to bury their grand-mother. It was successful in the community and Kane Kwei developed it further with his apprentice Paa Joe. The artistic coffins became very popular in Ghana and internationally, stimulated by the emergence of new machinery and carpentry workshops and the rise of the newly-emerging middle classes.
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 e.g. an eagle, a car, a plane, a bible, a fish, or a photo camera. Sometimes the deceased will have prepared a design brief during his or her lifetime. Griffiths (p. 10) states that "people celebrated for their loyalty have been buried in a coffin in the form of an elephant, considered by the Ga to be a strong and faithful animal." 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 2000 in Teshie, in the workshop of Paa Joe. It is made from wood in the form of an elephant with a raised trunk.
- Secretan, Thierry. Going into Darkness: Fantastic Coffins from Africa. London: Thames and Hudson, 1994.
- Griffiths, Hannah. Diverted Journeys: The Social Lives of Ghanaian Fantasy Coffins. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 2000
- Tschumi, Regula. The buried treasures of the Ga. Coffin art in Ghana. Bern, Benteli Verlags, 2008
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Cost for entire collection.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number