While funerals are often thought of as sullen, serious and sad throughout much of the Western world, there are places where the passing of a loved one is seen as a joyous occasion meant to honor the deceased and celebrate their life with dance and joyous displays.
The Ghanaian dancing pallbearers are quite literally lifting the spirits of the deceased, as well as funeral guests in attendance with their upbeat, lively dance show and displays of jubilance. These young men and women turn coffin carrying into a full fledged performance with high entertainment value. This controversial trend of dancing while carrying caskets has caught on and become increasingly popular in Ghana over the past few years, with growing numbers of families looking to send their love ones to meet their maker in style.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRd_SkUu1eQProfessional pallbearers literally ‘get down’ without so much as a scratch to the heavy coffin they manage to carefully balance.
Ghananian funerals are very important social occasions. So as the celebratory trend grew in popularity and demand, a young local man Benjamin Aido started his own professional pallbearer business for hiring out young locals to perform elaborate dance numbers carrying the deceased during funeral services. Benjamin’s company has since been credited with creating hundreds of jobs, thereby helping to ease local unemployment numbers. Providing services for hundreds of funerals, memorial services have become big business in Ghana.
Families can choose a standard subdued service where the pallbearers simply carry the casket from its post to its final resting place, or for an increased fee clients can choose a more lively, upbeat ceremony with added choreography that will have everyone smiling and dancing and along. Typically, no one looks forward to funerals, however with such community involvement and uplifting entertainment, it’s reportedly hard to find oneself not moving and tapping along to the infectious rhythms and movements that these professional pallbearers bring. While some pallbearers keep things simple with a rhythmic sway as they walk with the coffin, others exuberantly jump up and down with the casket while performing elaborate dance steps, some scooting their bottoms along the floor, crawling on all fours, lying on the ground, and even spinning and tossing the casket up and down in the air! If just carrying a heavy casket requires balance and focus, just imagine how much skill and strength is required to balance a heavy casket above head while performing high energy dance moves in sweet synchronicity!
While there is some criticism from those who view such displays as disrespectful to the dead or in poor taste, there is also wide growing support and enthusiasm for it. Ultimately we all express our grief in a variety of ways and it boils down to what the deceased and their family desire. It is also worth noting that cultural mores and values vary from place to place and from culture to culture, so can not always be compared side by side to the same standard. It is interesting that some critics refer to their own routine, uneventful memorial services as a celebration of life, in spite of the usual solemn, non-celebratory atmosphere. Each funeral is unique and the decedent’s wishes, culture, and customs should be respected.
This isn’t the only place where such festive funerals take place. New Orleans, Louisiana is also known for it’s festival like memorial services known as a Second Line Parade. This parade like procession that makes its way through the streets of New Orleans honors the deceased in true local, Mardi Gras fashion. The community marches and skips along the streets with live marching band and other entertainment. This celebratory, grand sort of send off with Jazz Hall Band and thousands of fans marching was orchestrated to memorialize rock icon David Bowie.
Second Line Parade funeral procession for beloved Louisiana woman.
Some American churches such as the AME church groups are known for having what they call Coming Home Celebrations. These memorial services typically include long services lasting several hours, that include lengthy gospel songs performed with passion, jubilance and even some dancing of course. Church staff dressed in nurses hats often line the aisles ready to tend to fainting congregation members.
While it may not be for everyone, it’s definitely worth taking a look at. Regardless of opinion, it’s hard to deny that a lot of heart, soul and love is poured into these spectacles; with some services lasting up to three days at a time. These now professional dance troupes turn what would otherwise be a sad, somber affair into a celebratory occasion and joyous performance.