Indiana University Bloomington IU Bloomington IUB

Coffin in the Form of a Fish

In coastal Ghana, one last way for family members to honor a deceased relative is by burial in a so-called “designer” or fantasy coffin. Bold, colorful, and inventive, these coffins relate to the deceased’s profession, status, or accomplishments and take the form of objects ranging from cars (Mercedes Benz is a favorite) to cocoa pods (one of the region’s important cash crops). Along the coast, many people’s occupations are sea-related, so it is not surprising to find coffins in the form of boats, outboard motors, fishing nets, lobsters, crabs, and fish of various forms and colors.

This bright pink fish coffin was commissioned in March 2001. Completed in three weeks, the fish is full-size; that is, it is the length of a coffin that would actually be used for burial. The interior is upholstered with gathered white satin. The blue supports anchored to the bottom of the fish are also part of a casket intended for use: they are the means by which a coffin containing the deceased is carried by mourners parading through the streets, past places frequented by the deceased, before burial.

Workshop of Ernest Anang Kwei
Tadeshi, Ghana
Coffin in the Form of a Fish
Wood, paint, cloth, metal
L. 115 ½ in. (293.4 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of William and Gayle Cook in honor of Alvin and Phyllis Rutner, 2001.17