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.