African viewpoint: In praise of the dead The axiom not to speak evil of the dead is carried to absurd lengths In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene considers her country's obsession with death. I have been attending a lot of funerals recently and this has brought back to the fore my morbid fascination with funerals. Keeping a child in school does not earn you as much status as organising a mega funeral Even though in the Ghanaian context, "morbid" is hardly the word to use for funerals. We love funerals here and they are a veritable spectacle better experienced than described. The attitude towards the dead and funerals would seem to indicate that a dead Ghanaian is worth far more than a live one. For example, a man is admitted to hospital and he recovers from his ailment. He is discharged but is forced to remain in the hospital because he has no family to pay his hospital bills. After two weeks the doctor sends a message out the man has died. The very next day a group of mourners arrive at the hospital, suitably clad in the obligatory black and red clothes, they are the family, they are ready to pay all the bills and arrange for the body to be put in the morgue until burial. There is no question about there being no money to pay the hospital bills once the man has died. Thriving business In another case, a man dies who has lived all his life in a house that is crumbling around him. A much-loved mother is buried in a coffin shaped like a mother hen, a rich man in a coffin shaped like a Mercedes Benz In pictures: Fantasy coffins His body is kept in the morgue until the house is rehabilitated, a new roof fixed and a fresh coat of paint is put on it. In nine cases out of 10 when you see a house being painted, it means there is a death in the family. A live Ghanaian can live in a dilapidated and filthy house, but his dead body can only be laid out in a freshly painted and clean house. All this takes time and that means the death business is one of the most thriving industries in the country. Keeping a body in the morgue for three months is not cheap. The funeral announcements are elaborate affairs and the newspapers and radio and television stations make fortunes. Take a lonely old lady who has been almost abandoned in the village for the past how many years and been called a witch and often gone hungry. Her death would merit a full-page colour advertisement in the newspapers. The reality of modern Ghanaian life means that in every family, there are people living in the four corners of the world. A death would mean a gathering of the clan and would mean intricate negotiations by Ghanaians around the world to get time off from work and to arrange flights. Foreigners do not understand that we Ghanaians must have a minimum of two weeks to "give a befitting burial" to our dearly departed ones. You are allowed and indeed, expected to borrow money for funerals but you would not make much headway trying to borrow money to feed your household. Laptop coffin? For this is the nation that gave the world the phenomenon of the exotic coffins: a much-loved mother is buried in a coffin shaped like a mother hen, a cocoa farmer is buried in a cocoa pod-shaped coffin, a rich man in a coffin shaped like a Mercedes Benz car. Every Ghanaian is a royal once dead I had thought an old broadcaster would be buried in a microphone shaped coffin until I saw a hip-hop singer buried in one such. The fact that someone went to bed hungry in the last year of his life does not stop the family from organising a huge feast for mourners when that someone dies. You might not have many clothes in your life but that does not stop the family getting the most exquisite lace for your shroud. The textile companies do a roaring trade in specially designed funeral cloths for families. I am ashamed to admit that funeral cloths currently constitute the larger part of my wardrobe. A mother would find money to buy a funeral cloth whilst keeping a child out of school for lack of money. Keeping a child in school does not earn you as much status as organising a mega funeral. In death it would seem every Ghanaian is a royal; just listen to our dirges and when it comes to tributes, in death, all the mean spirited, lazy, spouse abusing people are transformed into the most generous, loving human beings. We do carry the axiom not to speak evil of the dead to absurd lengths. So much so, you might yet find this old broadcaster one day being sent off in a laptop-shaped coffin and being spoken of as never having offended anybody in her life. If that happens, believe me, I will rise from the dead.