Nurturing the Deceased

The Akan of Ghana have a proverb that says, "Death, for all his power, cannot carry water from the river with a sieve." This means that while Death may take the body, he will not be able to take the soul. For the Akan, the soul lives on as an ancestor. Ancestors play an important role in Akan life, and we often find their images in funerary objects.

Among the Akan, ceramic vessels were commonly found in burials of the past. The pottery vessel shown here is called abusua kuruwa or "family pot."

The snake that winds itself around the vessel is meant to be a python, symbol of the death that will encircle every living person. Can you see the snake on this pot?

The lid is modeled to represent a human head and symbolizes a portrait of the deceased. These portraits don't really look like the deceased person. Instead the artist gives the deceased the features considered to be attractive by the Akan.
At the second burial, family members place trimmings from their hair and nails into the "abusua kuruwa" as mementos of themselves for the deceased. Because hair and nails "grow" throughout our lives, these offerings may also symbolize that the deceased should continue to grow and live. The family then carries this vessel to a cemetery in the forest and places food and palm wine next to the vesssel as an offering for the deceased.

© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
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