Small object of desire #13 – Cheating Death

T S Eliot wrote:

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

Notwithstanding the context of the lines which surround that particular one, I’m going to interpret it as Eliot making something of the fear of death. 

Watching one of those CSI-style crime dramas tonight (I love a whodunnit, me) and one of the characters says:

“We don’t actually fear death. We fear that no one will notice our absence and we will disappear without a trace.”

Well it IS inevitable and I, for one, would like to think my family at least, will remember me with some fondness. That’s one way I could cheat death, I suppose. Another way is to go old school and just haunt the hell out of folks. Then there’s always the Faustian thing, I could sell my soul to the devil. Did someone say vampire? I don’t know, all that blood sucking could get tired very quickly, I’d feel claustrophobic in bed and what if I ended up attracting the attention of a necrophiliac stalker? And how do you explain the Elvis Presley phenomenon?

But there is wanting to live on in memory and there are things that just seem plain daft. Cryonics, I’m looking at you.

Now, I find there’s something even more immediate you can do to ensure your place in posterity. Enter See Me It comes with the handy strapline “being dead and buried doesn’t mean that you can’t have friends over”. People, it’s a website where you can put up live camera feeds of your dearly departed decaying. I kid you not. I’d rather not link to it directly, not just because of the sheer ghoulishness of it all but also because of the dubious provenance of its affiliate adverts.

So if you can’t cheat death maybe the thing to do is to go meet your maker, sense of humour intact:

If you’re a corner shopkeeper…

…or a lion-hearted gangster…

… a fisherman…

…or a carpenter…

…you can phone ahead to heaven…

…and tell God you’re due on the first flight out!

Yes, those are all coffins. Specifically, “fantasy coffins” from Teshie, Accra, Ghana. 

When my brother and I were kids growing up in Teshie, Accra, Ghana, our route to and from school took us past a carpenter turned coffin maker. He made coffins just like the ones in the pictures. Everyday, we’d be on the look-out for new additions to the stock. We could tell the occupation of the latest incumbents of the coffins just from looking at their coffins. 

It turns out that  coffin maker was one and the same as the man who is becoming world famous for his work today. 

The story goes that in the first half of last century Ata Owoo was well-known for making magnificent chairs to transport the village chief. 

When Owoo had finished one particularly elaborate creation in the form of an eagle, a neighbouring chief wanted one too, this time in the shape of a cocoa pod. 

However, the chief next door died before the bean was finished and so it became his coffin. 

Then in 1951, the grandmother of one of Owoo’s apprentices died. 

She had never been in an aeroplane, so he built her one for her funeral, and the 50 year old tradition was born.


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