In My Time of DyingA History of Death and the Dead in West Africa

In My Time of DyingA History of Death and the Dead in West Africa

John Parker

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780691193151

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Abstract

This book is the first detailed history of death and the dead in Africa south of the Sahara. Focusing on a region that is now present-day Ghana, the book explores mortuary cultures and the relationship between the living and the dead over a 400-year period spanning the seventeenth to twentieth centuries. The book considers many questions from the African historical perspective, including why people die and where they go after death, how the dead are buried and mourned to ensure they continue to work for the benefit of the living, and how perceptions and experiences of death and the ends of life have changed over time. From exuberant funeral celebrations encountered by seventeenth-century observers to the brilliantly conceived designer coffins of the late twentieth century, the book shows that the peoples of Ghana have developed one of the world's most vibrant cultures of death. The book explores the unfolding background of that culture through a diverse range of issues, such as the symbolic power of mortal remains and the dominion of hallowed ancestors, as well as the problem of bad deaths, vile bodies, and vengeful ghosts. The book reconstructs a vast timeline of death and the dead, from the era of the slave trade to the coming of Christianity and colonial rule to the rise of the modern postcolonial nation. With an array of written and oral sources, the book richly adds to an understanding of how the dead continue to weigh on the shoulders of the living.