Meet the Ghanaian burying people in unconventional coffins like Nike sneakers

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Coffin makers in Ghana are adding a touch of fun to burial processes. They are creating fascinating coffins that will leave you with a dropped jaw.

They make coffins that are shaped like Mercedes, lions, fowl and even food ingredients among others. Just name it and they’ll get you a customised coffin.

A Ghanaian woodcarver Joseph Tetteh Ashong, popularly known as Paa Joe is famous for making those fancy coffins that are hand-carved.

Ghanaian burying people in unconventional coffins like Nike sneakers
Ghanaian burying people in unconventional coffins like Nike sneakers

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These coffins became popular in the 1950s thanks to Seth Kane Kwei, Paa Joe’s uncle whom he understudied. In Ghana at the time, these coffins were referred to as ‘abeduu adekai’, which means “receptacles of proverbs”.

The coffin is created to illustrate a dead life by carving a symbolic physical vessel that supposedly conveys the dead’s journey to the afterlife.

Ghanaian burying people in unconventional coffins like Nike sneakers
Ghanaian burying people in unconventional coffins like Nike sneakers

A pilot, for instance, might be buried in a large coffin in the shape of an aircraft. Or a musician, might be buried in a coffin shaped like a microphone. Whatever your career is or whoever you represent can be translated into a coffin.

The coffins are hand-carved to illustrate both who the dead persons were on earth and their journey of the afterlife.

Paa Joe’s family were prominent for making fantasy coffins for Ga funerals in southern Ghana, but his is emotive and fun-loving.

Paa Joe exhibited his work at “Gates of No Return”, which features a series of large wooden sculptures revealing Ghana’s slave forts and castles at the American Folk Art Museum in New York.

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Ghanaian burying people in unconventional coffins like Nike sneakers
Ghanaian burying people in unconventional coffins like Nike sneakers

Papa Joe, 72, started making coffin when he was 16 years and he says: “I’m excited when my coffin has served a purpose and helped someone to travel to the afterlife.”

The most common coffin requests he’s had are fish, cocoa pod, and the Holy Bible.

To create the fancy coffins, Paa Joe uses hardwood for art pieces and exhibitions and soft wood for burials. The coffins are handcraft and hand painted.

Whether rich or poor, Paa Joe aims to satisfy the individualistic, religious and ritualistic demands of his clients. His handcrafted coffin designs include a miniature Air Jordan sneaker and a Louis Vuitton x Supreme bag for shoe and fashion lovers in Ghana.

Even at his age, the Accra-based artist and craftsman’s goal is to build an art academy for local and international art students so they can learn how to make coffins. He also hopes to build a coffin art gallery as well.

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