The Fantasy Coffins story produced by New Atlantis Tribes offered a new lens for refracting sadness to joy in my Digital Storytelling focal theme of grief. I am curious how such beautiful works of art might affect one’s experience of grief. With such brilliant colors and amazing craftsmanship, I imagine the ceremony to be quite a celebratory send-off into the afterlife versus a somber slinking away. In somber slinking away, I am referring to my North America experience of every funeral I have attended: same box, different color. There is no identity associated with the casket. In Ghana, it’s almost like the community is saying, “May all the positive actions you accomplished in this life, carry-over and continue to grow in the next life.” This cultural perspective on death suggests a healthy grieving process that does not rob a person of their identity.

I will be critiquing this story by New Atlantis Tribes based upon three traits from the Lankshear and Knobel’s Appendix: Some popular everyday remix practices.

  1. Translating an enjoyed woodworking art from one medium to another
  2. To maintain social relationships with friends and others
  3. For commercial entertainment purpose

Translating an enjoyed woodworking art from one medium to another

The fantasy coffin tradition began when a well-respected fisherman of the town, passed. His family wanted to honor him with a special coffin, so they asked master carpenters to create a big fish. This is such a beautiful metaphor of a community’s “big fish” inspiring a new tradition in his last moments.

In establishing this new tradition, the traditional coffin was “remixed” into a whole new creation. Of course, in my experience, most coffins are quite drab. They insinuate finality and somberness. Specialty coffins are an absolutely stunning rendition of the average coffins, which seems to be one size fits all. I believe that the West would benefit from such a colorful tradition.

To maintain social relationships with friends and others

Family and friends are able to have input on how to portray the person. The coffin’s make is an opportunity to reflect social relationships, how others’ knew the deceased, and what was important to the deceased. “When you die, you are dead. You don’t know where you are headed,” said Paa Joe, skilled carpenter of Fantasy Coffins. “If you are a plumber, you might be buried in a monkey wrench. If you are a farmer, you might be buried in a banana, pineapple, or cocoa bean. Everyone will attend your funeral to see your coffin.”

A funeral is not supposed to solely about the loss of life. It is about community, life, and hope for the deceased’s new future. Having such bright fantasy coffins at a place pervaded by death makes it impossible to be down.

For commercial entertainment purpose

Fantasy Coffins has a truly unique business plan. The coffins are not simply pretty to look at, they provide work in the community. The coffins seen in the story included a butterfly, bottle of beer, shoe, lion, chicken, and camera just to name a few. Every single coffin is made to perfection in order to honor the deceased.

Two of the carpenters, Daniel Mensah and Paa Joe offered their insight in the story. It would have been nice to learn more about the carpenters’ backstory of how they reached their level of mastery. I expect such a career is highly respected and coveted, because these carpenters took a mundane task and turned it into an art form.

Although there is an element of pervading social status here, it sounds like the funeral is a lively event that draws a festive crowd. It draws the community together to appreciate the creativity of the coffin as well as the person’s life. To conclude, this story really brought me to a whole new way of looking at death and grief. There is pride in one’s life work and how the community comes together for a celebratory event. These coffins simply make me smile and I didn’t even know a coffin could inspire such appreciation.