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6 / Death

Eagle Coffin
Eagle Coffin
Artist / Origin Workshop of Kane Quaye, Teshe, Ghana
Region: Africa
Date 1991
Material Painted wood
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 51 in. (129.5 cm.), W: 52 ½ in. (133.3 cm.), L: 106 in. (269.2 cm.)
Location The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Credit Courtesy of The Newark Museum

expert perspective

Christa ClarkeSenior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum

Additional Resources

Buckley, Stephen. “In Africa, Funerals Use Rituals of Joy to Ease Sorrow.” Washington Post, December 22, 1997.

Burns, Vivian. “Travel to Heaven: Fantasy Coffins.” African Art 7.2 (Winter 1974): 24–25.

Secretan, Thierry. Going into Darkness: Fantastic Coffins from Africa. London: Thames & Hudson, 1995.

Eagle Coffin

» Workshop of Kane Quaye, Teshe, Ghana

For the Ga, the dominant ethnic group in southern coastal Ghana, funerals are a time for both mourning and celebration.

According to the traditional beliefs of the Ga, one’s life carries on beyond death. Many Ga choose to be buried in what are often referred to in the West as “fantasy coffins.” These figurative coffins take a wide range of forms, everything from lions to airplanes to soda bottles. Such coffins are believed to ensure the continuation of earthly activities in the afterlife. They are also a way for the Ga community to honor the individual who has passed on to the realm of the ancestors.

Some “fantasy coffins” are carved to represent a symbol of material success, such as a Mercedes Benz, or a habit that the dead had enjoyed in life, such as cigarette smoking. Others refer to the profession of the deceased. For example, a fish or lobster coffin might be created for someone whose livelihood was rooted in the sea, while an individual whose wealth came from planting might be buried in a cocoa pod. Eagles like the one seen here are especially popular for chiefs.

Considered a fetish practice by the Church, many Christians among the Ga forgo such coffins. Others leave instructions that they be should be placed in a plain coffin for the church funeral and then transferred to their personalized coffin for burial. The coffins themselves are often difficult to fit into traditional burial plots and must be broken in order to be lowered into the ground.

The practice of making these representational coffins started with a carpenter named Ata Owoo and was further developed as an art form by Kane Quaye. Kane Quaye, in turn, trained his nephew, Paa Joe, in the art of coffin-making. Today, their descendants carry on the tradition.

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