Disposal of mortal remains is an ancient phenomenon. However, the way and manner in which dead bodies are disposed of differ from country to country and is also influenced by traditions and beliefs.
Some methods of disposal include earth burial or internment, cremation or consumption by fire, conservation or embalming, exposure to the open air, water burial and animal consumption.
In Ghana, earth burial, which is the practice of enclosing a corpse in a casket or coffin and placing it in a grave six feet deep together with attendant ceremonies, is the most popular.
With time, however, that popular practice appears to fast giving way to new phenomenon.
Information gathered by Weekend Finder indicates that cremation is the new burial of choice.
Cremation is that method of disposal of the dead by the rapid combustion of the corpse to ashes. The whole corpse thereafter is reduced to ash, which may be subsequently buried, stored in urns, kept in the house or disposed of in other ways.
Types of cremation
Cremation is performed by two methods; namely, the pyre method and the gas/electric method. In the pyre method, the pyre (pile) is made of firewood and the dead body, enclosed in an open coffin, is laid on the pyre.
The pyre is lit after the performance of religious/traditional faith and beliefs in accordance with the wishes of the deceased person. Fire reduces the dead body to ashes, and these ashes are collected and disposed of according to the custom and wish of the dead person.
In the gas/electric method, the dead body is placed in a concealed furnace and reduced to ashes in no time by the use of gas. Here again, the ashes are collected and disposed of according to the individual’s or the family’s wishes or customs.
Godfred Otu, General Manager of the Lashibi Funeral Homes, the only private facility with a modern crematorium (gas /electric pyre) in the country and the third in West Africa, says the initial scepticism about cremation is waning as more Ghanaians are opting for the process. He indicated that although many opt for the process due to religious reasons, the cost of cremation, which is far cheaper than ground burial, is driving many to opt for the ashes.
Victoria Boi-Doku, Assistant Secretary, Ghana Cremation Society, a society that has expertise in open pyre cremation in the country, says the phenomenon is fast catching up with many Ghanaians, but lamented that currently there is only one public crematorium in the country, sited at the Osu cemetery. She argued that given the current stress on land for cemeteries in the country, cremation remains the country’s best option in disposing of its dead.
According to the Ghana Cremation Society, cremation is chosen for end-of-life care almost 50% of time, and the choice of cremation is on the rise. According to Victoria Boi-Doku, cremation is a more “hygienic” means of disposing of the dead than ground burial.
For those concerned about their final footprint, cremation is an environmentally-friendly end-of-life choice as the procedure avoids embalming chemicals and limits the use of financial and land resources. “The fire disintegrates all diseases that the dead person might be having, and it is environmentally-friendly”. She, however, advocated for the need for every cemetery in the country to have a crematorium. Additionally, the cost of cremation constitutes only a fraction of the cost of ground burial.
Again, the cost of burial includes the price of a casket, burial vault, cemetery plot, grave marker and burial service. With affordable cremation, all those costs may be avoided. Even when families choose cremation burial or cremation urn placement in a columbarium, the cost of interment is substantially lower. Cremation costs are further reduced when direct cremation is chosen - cremation without other services - eliminating the cost of a funeral.
Is a casket needed for cremation?
Information gathered indicates that in most cases, a casket is not required for cremation. However, many family members find placing their dead relative in an open fire, a gruelling experience. Alternatively, a container made of wood or cardboard is used and cremated with the body.
Is embalming required prior to cremation?
According to the Ghana Cremation Society, it is against the laws of cremation to embalm the body before cremating. However, many funeral homes overlook this as they embalm the body to keep it in good shape for public viewing prior to cremation.
Is cremation accepted by all religions?
According to the Cremation Society, most religions now allow cremation, except for Orthodox Jewish, Islamic, Eastern Orthodox and a few Fundamentalist Christian faiths.
The Catholic Church accepts cremation as long as it is not chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teachings.
Can an urn be brought into church?
Nearly all Protestant Churches allow for the urn to be present during the memorial service. Most Catholic Churches also allow the cremated remains to be present during the Memorial Mass. If the family is planning a memorial service, it is advised that the cremated remains be present as it provides a focal point for the service.
What do the cremated remains look like?
Cremated remains resemble coarse sand and are whitish to light grey in colour. The remains of an average size adult usually weigh between four to six pounds.
What can be done with the cremated remains?
Remains can be buried in a cemetery lot or cremation garden, inurned in a columbarium, kept at home, or scattered.