June 29, 2010

Ataa Oko and the Spirits

As the Ga believe in reincarnation within the family, they do not
regard death as the final end. As ancestors, the dead are
much more powerful than the living and within the family can
exert a significant influence for good or for evil. This is why
families make great efforts to insure that a departed family
member remains in a good mood. Social status is largely
dependent on the size and success of the funeral ceremony as
well as on an exclusive coffin. The figure-shaped coffins, only
seen on the day of the burial, are often symbolic of the
profession of the late departed and are supposed to help him
or her to take up their earthly career again in the hereafter.
This is why fishermen are often buried in a canoe or fish coffin,
farmers in vegetable coffins and a businessman in a
prestigious Mercedes Benz coffin. Some of the motifs reflected
in the shapes of the coffins, for instance, the Ga stool or
traditional chief’s sandal, are royal or priestly insignias with a
magical and religious function. Only those with corresponding
status may be buried in such coffins. Various animals such as
lions, cocks and crabs are clan totems. In this case too, only
chiefs from the corresponding families may use coffins with
these shapes. And finally, many coffins indicate a proverb,
which is why the Ga call the figure-shaped coffins Proverbial.
Ataa Oko, born around 1919 is regarded as the
inventor of the figure-shaped coffin, .
The coloured drawings by Ataa Okodone in recent years
are based on memories of coffins that he made in earlier times.
At the age of 83, Ataa Oko has suddenly thrown himself into art. 
From his crippled hand he creates a world combining his dreams
and visions with elements from the Ga culture.
With the use of colouring pencils, he starts by drawing memories of coffins 
that he actually used to make as a craftsman. Then, little by little,
he frees himself from his memories to make way for a profusion of new,
vibrantly coloured iconic designs.

Ataa Oko and the spirits English subtitled from Andres Alvarez on Vimeo.



  1. avocados with groundnut dressing

    2 avocados ripe but firm 15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon juice 30 ml (2 tbsp) shelled groundnuts or peanuts 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) paprika 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) cinnamon chile powder [cayenne], to taste salt, to taste fresh chives, to garnish

    Peel the avocados; cut out the stone and cut into cubes. Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. Grind the peanuts roughly with a rolling pin or in a grinder for a few seconds. Mix the peanuts and spices well. Sprinkle over the avocados with finely chopped chives. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


    15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon juice 1 clove of garlic, crushed pinch of sea salt freshly ground black pepper, to taste pinch of paprika 1 avocado 175 g (6 oz) white crab meat spring onions to garnish.

    Mix together the lemon juice, garlic and seasonings. Peel and remove the stone from the avocado and mash the flesh with the lemon mixture. Mix in the flaked crab meat, with a fork. Garnish with chopped spring onions. Serve on fingers of toast.

  3. The inventor of Ghana design coffins is Seth Kane Kwei, not Ataa Oko. Ataa Oko has been "invented" by an air hostess who suddenly turned to be an anthropologist, basically trying to make some business on the back of the old man. Visit ghanacoffin.com for serious and secured information.