Confronting images in motion : abεbuu adekai and funerary practices among the Ga of Ghana

Bonetti, Roberta

This paper stems from my research on abεbuu adekai, literally, “receptacles of proverbs,” and better known internationally as fantasy coffins. These artifacts constitute a widespread leitmotif within contemporary African art but have yet to be examined from an ethnographical perspective. Such coffin-sarcophagi were first built and employed in Accra in the 1960s, following Ghana’s independence. Their origin is usually attributed to a carpenter named Kane Kwei (1924-1992). The themes chosen for the coffins' shape – cocoa seeds, Mercedes Benz, onions, boats, and many others — represent aspects of everyday life that relate to notions of prestige and well-being. The coffins are brightly colored, varnished, and topped with sumptuous structures. The variety of motifs has steadily increased, and craftsmen are constantly devising new images. My presentation aimed at highlighting certain processes of mise en image or mise en figuration among the Ga of Ghana, focusing particularly on the funerary object-image – the coffin. Rather than dwelling on the question of whether these products can be classified as art, my research stresses inventiveness within the community in order to understand how adekai function in the local context, the ideas embedded in them, and how they communicate to a local audience .

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Academic Units
Italian Academy
Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University
Italian Academy Fellows' Seminar Working Papers
Published Here
March 29, 2011


April 2008.