Ghana and Fantasy Coffins

Ever seen a coffin made to resemble a chicken? How bout a Mercedes Benz? A lobster? A Life Well Lived: Fantasy Coffins- Kane Quaye displays 12 coffins, each uniquely created to capture the essence of the departed - whether a character trait, an occupation, or a symbol of one's standing in the community.

This one-of-a-kind exhibit includes coffins of a KLM airliner, Mercedes Benz, fish, canoe, leopard, chicken, bull, crab, eagle, lobster, shallot and Yamaha outboard motor. Brightly colored and intricately designed, these wooden coffins were crafted by Ghanaian sculptor Kane Quaye (also known as Seth Kane Kwe) in his homeland of Accra, Ghana.

Quaye began crafting these Fantasy Coffins more than 30 years ago at his dying uncle's request for a special coffin. Because his uncle was a fisherman, Kane built him a coffin in the shape of a fishing canoe. The result was met with a highly favorable response from the local community, and Kane opened his own workshop to produce personalized coffins, a craft he elevated into high art. For example, the leopard coffin signifies a person with power, such as a tribal or political leader. The chicken, a frequent subject of proverbs in Akan culture, often represents a mother who is protective of her children.

To the people of Ghana, death is not an end, but a transition to the spiritual realm of the ancestors. In fact, ancestors are forever considered members of the family. It is believed that if the deceased is properly honored, such actions secure spiritual favor for the family left on earth. As a result, burial practices among the Ghanaian are often lavish, with customized coffin centerpiece. Although one of these sculpted coffins may cost an average year's salary in Ghana, families and communities often band together to make such a purchase possible. This is believed to protect the well-being of the deceased in the after-world. These fantasy coffins continue as a tradition in Ghana today and have been commissioned by people from around the world.