Bookshelf: Going Into Darkness, by Thierry Secretan (1994)

Throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, photographer and reporter Thierry Secretan captured the eye-catchingly gorgeous and idiosyncratic funerary art of the Ga people of Accra, Ghana. These master craftsmen, many of whom had been making coffins since they were young children, had perfected their art over decades by providing fanciful creations for the recently deceased.

The Ga are traditionally buried in a coffin that reflected their occupation, status or character. A fisherman may be buried in a fish – a hunter, in a mighty lion. In some cases the truly bizarre, such as a pack of cigarettes or a Mercedes-Benz, were built as a humorous reflection of the deceased’s life. Going Into Darkness (1994) is Secretan’s beautiful ode to this little-known folk art and the age-old traditions that go along with it.

“Every Friday morning the roads around Korle Bu, Accra’s morgue, are blocked with lines of the local tro-tro, painted trucks bearing slogans declaring The Poor Man Has No Friend, In the End the Tomb, or Let Them Speak. Whole families pile out of these gaudy vehicles and assemble near the central yard. Only the spouses and the children actually enter the building to reclaim the body. It is dark inside, and the air is cool and damp, smelling strongly of the women’s perfume. Each time a body is wheeled out there is a new outburst of sobbing. The members of the family crowd around the dead person. They lay the body out on a stretcher brought for the purpose and cover it with a piece of multicolored cloth, leaving the face free. The men, who alone refrain from weeping, sing a few verses of their tribal song in loud voices, and whenever they name the dead person they add the words ‘Dzee Ya se! It’s dark. Be off!'”