Fantasy Coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History - WanderWisdom - Travel
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Fantasy Coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Fantasy Coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston

Fantasy Coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston

Coffins You Must See to Believe!

Custom coffins are not a new idea. History can show us many examples from the past and even the present. However, the symbolic ones from the Greater Accra Region of Ghana created primarily since the 1950s are the most unique and eye-catching ones that I have ever seen.

Airplane Coffin at the National Museum of Funeral History

Airplane Coffin at the National Museum of Funeral History

Ga Culture in Ghana

Seth Kane Kwei (also known as Kane Quaye) was a member of Ga, an ethnic group of people located in Ghana. Most of the original Ga people farmed and fished for a living; however, many have also gotten into trading and other professions. Seth Kane Kwei became a highly skilled carpenter.

It is interesting to learn that women in the Ga culture typically control the money. Inheritances of wealth occur along matrilineal lines of descent. Men live in men’s compounds, and the women and children live in women’s compounds.

When people in that culture die, a strong belief in an afterlife exists. Their ancestors become even more powerful than living according to their ideas. Thus their funerals are causes for celebration. Coffins carried to the gravesites are accompanied by people singing, dancing and celebrating their departed one’s new status beyond the grave.

Eagle Coffin at the National Museum of Funeral History

Eagle Coffin at the National Museum of Funeral History

Fantasy Coffins

Since the 1950s, lavish fantasy coffins created at the Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop in Teshie, Ghana (a suburb of Accra, which is the capital of Ghana), has become well-known for this type of coffin artistry. Former apprentices who studied under Kane Kwei and his heirs are now doing this type of creativity in other workshops in the area.

Chiefs and other leaders first had these elaborate and fanciful coffins. Widespread use of them has mushroomed since the 1960s in Ghana.

Many of the people living in Ghana are of the Christian faith. These types of symbolic fantasy coffins are not allowed in church ceremonies. The church likens them to fetishism. Thus Christians who also believe in reincarnation often have their sanctioned church ceremony first, then followed by burial in their artfully created coffin of choice.

Cost of Honoring Ancestors

The fantasy coffins can cost $400 to $600 or even more. Considering that many people (according to Wikipedia) in Ghana only earn around $50 a month, this cost is enormous. All members of a family or even the community at large chip in to pay for these artful coffins. They wish for their ancestors to have the same social status and riches in the next life as they did in this one.

The coffins relate to the person’s occupation, status in the community, or even their personality traits. People who farmed for a living might choose a coffin that has an appearance of onion, carrot, shallot, or pumpkin as an example. Fishers might want a boat, fish, or similar object as a coffin. The coffins are meant to reflect the essence of the person who has passed on to the next life.

Coffins Become Objects of Art

Since 1989 these figurative coffins have become better known because of art exhibitions in numerous countries. The twelve coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History is the most extensive collection of them outside of Ghana originating from the Kane Kwei workshop. Those used as objects of art for display purposes are built using sturdier wood than those used as actual funeral coffins.

Most of these fantasy coffins have brief lives after being created. They return to dust along with their mortal contents but live long in the memories of the Ghana community members.

The coffins which become museum exhibits such as these take on a different life. They are fascinating pieces of sculptural art depicting a far-off culture and funeral experience of people far from where we live.

Fantasy Coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History

Fantasy Coffins at the National Museum of Funeral History

Other Unusual Coffins at The Museum

There are plenty of other unusual and curious looking coffins as well as caskets on display in addition to these fantasy coffins. Are you familiar with the auto customizer by the name of George Barris? He created the Batmobile and the Munster Koach, among others. My husband and I got to see an officially licensed replica of the Batmobile at the 7th annual car show at Towne Lake one year. That was fun!

Other coffins and caskets of interest include these among others:

  • See a replica of the custom-made coffin of Abraham Lincoln.
  • View the actual one-of-a-kind glass casket created for Snow White.
  • Learn about three nested papal coffins.
  • Look at a custom casket for three and learn about the story behind its creation.
  • Observe the same model and style of casket used for the funeral of President John F. Kennedy.
  • There is even a money casket on display!
A replica of George Barris Casket at the National Museum of Funeral History

A replica of George Barris Casket at the National Museum of Funeral History

More to See and Learn at This Museum

An interesting note: Are you aware that the term casket originally meant a jewelry box? You can learn much more about the differences in coffins and caskets by clicking on a source link below.

There is so much more to learn by visiting this captivating museum. These coffins and caskets are just one small example of what you will find there. The address of the National Museum of Funeral History is 415 Barren Springs Drive, Houston, Texas 77090-5918.

“Our loved ones may be nailed in a coffin but their epitaph is nailed in our hearts. Death cannot kill love.”

— Vincent Okay Nwachukwu, Weighty 'n' Worthy African Proverbs - Volume 1

Sources:

National Museum of Funeral History

Differences Between Coffin and Casket

Ga Culture in Ghana

Seth Kane Kwei

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Peggy Woods

Comments

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2020:

Hi Niks,

So glad that you liked learning about these creative and unique coffins. I found them to be fascinating.

Niks from India on May 26, 2020:

Your hubs always mention some unique places which peaks the interest of readers. I never thought that a coffin can be so extraordinarily creative. Thanks, Peggy for sharing this amazing information with us.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 21, 2020:

Hi C E Clark,

These coffins are truly incredible. I would never have known about them except for visiting this national funeral museum.

C E Clark from North Texas on May 21, 2020:

I don't think I've seen this article before. Love it! Had no idea there were such incredible coffins available. Posting this to FB & AH.

Stay well . . .

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 04, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

Since most of these coffins are made of wood, they would disintegrate pretty quickly in the ground. So it is good that we can learn about them in this manner.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 04, 2020:

Since nothing is buried forever, I can just imagine these custom art coffins unearthed at some point in the distant future and what the excavators would think. Mine would be a cat if I had my choice!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 04, 2020:

Hi Heidi,

As you wrote, "Art can be applied everywhere." Learning about these artful coffins fascinated me.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 04, 2020:

Hi Liz,

That is a unique name for a coffin maker: "Heaven Bound." I like the name considering what they are building.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 04, 2020:

Hi Kathy,

These coffins are way beyond the ordinary ones most of us know. Isn't it fun learning new things!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 04, 2020:

Just hope the deceased aren't still in them! :) Art can be applied everywhere, right? Thanks for sharing!

Liz Westwood from UK on April 04, 2020:

I have never seen a museum like it. It reminds me of a street of coffin sellers in Africa that a family menber once saw. One company of coffin makers was called Heaven Bound.

Kathy Henderson from Pa on April 04, 2020:

Peggy,

I must share these with my friend who is a funeral director. He has options, but these are way beyond. Very cool!