In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian author Elizabeth Ohene considers what would have happened to Archbishop Desmond Tutu if he had come from her country.
If anyone deserves the adjective “world famous,” it’s Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
When he died, it was agreed that the world could learn a lot from his turbulent life and the low-key manner of his funeral.
Here in Ghana, funeral capital of the worldYet it’s frustrating and puzzling that such a celebrity should die and be buried within a week with less fanfare.
We have been thinking about what we would do in the face of the death of such a famous person. He certainly would not have been buried within six days of his death.
It will take at least that long for the family to agree on the composition of the delegation that will formally inform the President of the Republic of the tragic death of this illustrious son.
We watched in disbelief as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was pronounced dead against the backdrop of a room full of grieving-looking family members dressed in appropriate black cloth.
Then, the horrific announcement came from the Anglican Church, which, at the request of the archbishop himself, gave details of the funeral. Of course, everyone knows that once you’re dead, your written funeral wishes don’t count.
I was in a meeting once when the family of a former Chief Justice of Ghana came to announce his passing to the President.
The head of the family said the late judge left written instructions on how he wanted the funeral to be carried out.
He asked to be buried within two weeks of his death; however, the day they went to announce the news marked three weeks after his death.
To overturn the wishes of the dead, all you need to do is pour libations to the ancestors.
So Tutu’s instructions on having a modest funeral are ignored and we will give him what we call a “proper funeral” in these sections.
He certainly wouldn’t be buried in that modest pine coffin.
Then a special cloth had to be designed with a photo of the archbishop, which took some time.
There are black and red versions to wear on funeral day, and black and white versions for the Thanksgiving service on Sunday.
Thousands of people need to be fed
We will try to place orders for fabrics in local factories, but it may end up in China. Our tailors and tailors can be very busy.
Then there must be a funeral committee – the subcommittee in charge of hospitality – synonymous with food and beverages, which always make up the largest portion of a funeral budget.
For people like Tutu, thousands of people need to be fed. Will give in to Covid, and reluctantly give up large buffet tables full of food, we’ll have takeaway packages for the crowd.
The advocacy committee will ensure giant billboards with pictures of the archbishop are erected at all major intersections in all cities.
The committee in charge of the funeral booklet will produce a glossy 100+ page booklet with his biography and tributes from world leaders and anyone who has been in the room with him. Of course, there will also be photos documenting the good life of 90 years.
It will take a while to put this booklet together – no one will meet the deadline for submitting the tribute script. Putting together an obituary requires great skill and can lead to family discord if not handled properly.
The idea of having only one choir present is very intolerable, we will have many choirs and singers performing, even if that means four hours for the service.
This might mean that the body would have to be stored in the morgue for about three months before it could be properly arranged, but it would be the minimum amount of time to keep the body without giving the impression that you are burying a nobody.
The scene of a team of Anglican clergymen in robes carrying Tutu’s coffin is moving, but we thought we could improve on that with the performance of our famous singing and dancing.
A funeral is meant to be a show.
Maybe we’ll agree to his request body to be hydrated, just to show that we are sensitive to environmental needs.
But we do believe that the next time there is such a death, those of us in Ghana should be consulted for a proper funeral.
We are world leaders in funerals and are happy to share our expertise.