The Colorful World of Ghanian Fantasy Coffins

The dead are honored in distinct ways worldwide, but few nations do it as uniquely as Ghana. Ghanaian culture embraces funerals as a celebration of life by sending the deceased off in a fantasy coffin called abebuu adekai.

The Colorful World of Ghanian Fantasy Coffins

What Are Abebuu Adekai?

Abebuu adekai, or fantasy coffins, are functional burial coffins primarily made in specialized workshops in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. What sets these coffins apart from traditional coffins is their unique appearance.

These coffins can take virtually any shape. A coffin shaped like a lobster? The specialized carpenters from Ghana have made one. The same goes for many other animals including cows, elephants, and lions.

No matter how surprising the idea is, there’s probably a coffin in that shape somewhere in Ghana. A Coca-Cola bottle, a KLM aircraft, a war tank, a robot, a banana … and the list goes on and on.

Of course, these shapes aren’t chosen at random. They relate to the deceased in some way. It might be what they did for a living, what they couldn’t live without, or what they hoped to achieve. 

Whatever the case, these striking coffins reflect a strong belief that everyone deserves to be buried in a way closely tailored to who they were in life.

How Are Fantasy Coffins Made?

Considering their unique shape, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that fantasy coffins have a different manufacturing process than their traditional counterparts.

Each coffin is custom-made to match and highly relevant to the deceased’s life. After the design is settled, the carpenter will thoroughly observe the sketch (or the actual model) and use it to shape a block of wood accordingly. Coffins intended for funerals are typically made using softwood (wawa or emien). For export or a gallery exhibition, carpenters use sturdier and costlier wood (limba or African mahogany).

The inside of the finished coffin gets coated with a lining. Then an experienced painter carefully polishes, sprays, and decorates the outside. The finished product is usually smooth to the touch and nothing short of mesmerizing.

The History of Fantasy Coffins

Fantasy coffins are undoubtedly fascinating. But how did they exactly come to be?

As legend has it, Seth Kane Kwei, a young carpenter considered the inventor of these coffins, attended a funeral where the deceased was buried in a cocoa pod. In fact, Kane Kwei built the pod himself. Only when he built it, it was supposed to serve as a palanquin. Sadly, the chief who the pod was made for died suddenly. So, he was buried in the pod to the admiration of many.

When Kane Kwei’s grandmother died shortly after, he remembered this unique take on a coffin. So, he decided to build his grandmother an airplane-shaped coffin to honor her lifelong fascination with the aircraft.

Kane Kwei died in 1992, but his legacy lives on. His original workshop operates to this day, and his former apprentices own many others.

Other Notable Figures in the World of Fantasy Coffins

Besides Seth Kane Kwei, Paa Joe is another name that has become almost synonymous with the concept of fantasy coffins.

Paa Joe is Ghana’s most prolific coffin artist with decades of experience. He is the man behind some of the world’s most extravagant caskets, including a Porsche-shaped coffin that sold for over $9,000 in 2014. 

Like most Ghanaian fantasy coffin makers, he started his career with an apprenticeship in Kane Kwei’s workshop. Over the years, he accomplished impressive feats like selling his coffins to U.S. presidents and displaying his art worldwide, from the British Museum in London to the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka.

Fantasy coffins have long become an art form, earning iconic worldwide status. These elaborate coffins are a chance to give loved ones a proper send-off, allowing them to leave the physical world in style. Tailoring the funeral service and the coffin to the deceased’s personality, wishes, and dreams is seen as the ultimate form of respect and honor.

A Proper Farewell

Hollywood Forever is a historic Los Angeles cemetery and funeral home. We can help you plan a memorable funeral service that pays tribute to your loved one while offering solace to surviving friends and family. Reach out to our representatives for more details.


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