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Published June 9th 2012
Most of us don't think about death very much, whether it be our own or somebody else's. But for some it is their life's work, and Paa Joe is one such person. At his workshop in Accra, Ghana he has been making fantasy coffins for many years.
Paa Joe is the imaginative creator of beautiful caskets designed to reflect important aspects of a deceased person's life. If they had always wanted to fly overseas, an appropriate coffin might be in the shape of a plane.
Paa Joe has now become world renown for his creations - they have been exhibited recently in London at Southbank and the prestigious Jack Bell gallery, in Glasgow at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, at the Melbourne Festival in 2006, and one is currently featuring in an exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
If you ever get a chance to see them in your city, don't miss the opportunity - these creations are amazing.
Many of his coffins are unacceptable to Christian churches for burial use, so Paa Joe devised the Bible coffin, which has been widely used by deeply religious people and is the only coffin that he makes that is allowed in a church.
For the Ga people of Ghana, the significance of these elaborate creations goes far further than simply art. The coffin is carried to the grave in a chaotic roundabout route to prevent the wandering spirit from finding their way back. That is important as until the spirit is reunited with their ancestors, it can cause harm to those left behind.
They have been in use since the 1950's, traditionally only seen on the day of burial. Only people of a suitable social standing are permitted to use them, while certain designs such as the crab may only be used by heads of the clan who use it as a totem.
Paa Joe is no longer the only creator of these works of art. A number of his apprentices have now moved on to create their own original designs too, and have also been exhibited at museums and art galleries.
To many people a car is often a symbol of good fortune and success, and a Mercedes Benz epitomises this. For that reason alone the shining new Mercedes Benz coffin is enormously popular with respected business people.
It is also in great demand from taxi drivers who drive the car, and the number plate is usually personalised with the deceased's number or name.
Whatever the shape, these coffins have now developed from being a personalised symbol of respect for loved ones that have passed on, to art forms in themselves in great demand by Western collectors and museums. For a very scholarly look at how perspectives of these artifacts have changed, read "Diverted Journeys: The Social Lives of Ghanaian Fantasy Coffins" by Hanna Griffiths.
Demand has been so high that they are being imitated by others such as Crazy Coffins in the U.K.
So, if you know of a Ferrari to die for, you now can be buried in it too.