Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ghosts of Ghana, Arise!

Ghost of Ghana, Arise!

Remember the poem, Old Roger? In case you don’t, allow me to paraphrase: Old Roger died and went to his grave. They planted an apple tree over his head. The apples grew ripe and were ready to drop. Then came an old woman to pick them all up, but furious, Old Roger got up from his grave and gave her such a knock that it made her hop painfully away. Now, that is what I wish would happen at Osu Cemetery, and for that matter every cemetery in Ghana.

Osu Cemetery is the national memorial where dignitaries and fallen heroes are buried, as well as some elders who own plots there. However, thanks to some ruffians, those who have passed away are doing anything but resting in peace. One Sunday on my way to Accra Ridge Church, the taxi driver happened to drive by the cemetery. I had to blink twice to make sure that I was not hallucinating. Young men were playing soccer right there on the tombs of the dearly departed. I was so astonished that I asked the driver to pull over.

Bare-chested men, sweat glistening on their torsos, dribbled and headed their ball over graves, using spaces between two tombs on opposite sides as goal posts. The goalies dived down and somehow managed not to scrape their knees. While the players jumped and dashed after the ball, others cheered, jumping up and down on more graves. Still others, feeling drowsy in the late morning heat, sprawled across cool concrete tombs under the shade and dozed off, their legs hanging over the edges.

As I watched with open mouth, three friends laughingly made their way to the shady wall and fumbled with the buttons in front of their trousers, and soon, fountains in varying shades of yellow sprang from their organs, spraying nearby graves. The taxi driver assured me that this was regular practice, especially on weekends. Evidently I had lived outside Ghana for far too long.

There was a time when Ghanaians were deathly afraid of ghosts. People believed that the mere mention of the dead would rouse ghosts who would drag us down with them into the netherworld. Anytime someone died, I slept with my sisters, huddled under a blanket, eyes shut tightly. I had to have the lights on because in the dark, the furniture in the room would develop arms and legs and start marching towards me. Okay, that was unhealthy, and I am glad we are not as superstitious as we used to be. However, we have gone too far.

Yes, the dead do not feel, so playing soccer on their tombs does not hurt them, but it is still an affront. Osu Cemetery is the equivalent of the Arlington National Cemetery in the U.S., and it is unimaginable that people would play soccer there, much less urinate. Because Arlington Cemetery is revered and guarded, tourists flock to the site to pay respects to fallen heroes, or merely visit out of curiosity.

Perhaps the Ghana Tourist Board could be persuaded to spruce up Osu Cemetery, get the military to patrol it or do something that will lend it some dignity. I know it will take some persuasion for the government to act, what with the petrol crisis, budget deficits and all, but for goodness sake, let’s do something. Surely, for a people that make such a fuss over funerals with lengthy rituals, this is not too much to ask.

Until then, now would be a good time for ghosts to make us believe they exist. Therefore, I call on all you folks lying beneath the concrete slabs; arise and knock down the footballers!


  1. Highly disrespectful! I can't imagine how they're permitted to get away with such an act. I'd have been appalled to see behavior like that at Arlington, though none would have the gall.

    Your descriptive talent is alive in this, Bisi. Very nicely written.

    (I am switching to Blogger instead of Wordpress. The new address is listed on my Blogger profile, which can be linked from my name here. Just as an FYI.)


  2. Thanks for the comment, Corra, and thanks also for let me know your new address! You're so creative and energetic, hard to keep up with :)


  3. We're seeing the same thing here, in that cemeteries are even desecrated by grave robbers. The ones connected to funeral homes are much better kept, but I do agree that National sites should be given special attention. You wouldn't catch me anywhere near a cemetery if I'm not at a funeral.

  4. I know exactly how you felt. Shortly after my beloved Dora-Mom died (my maternal grandmother), some vandals knocked her headstone over. I was so furious I started watching the cemetery at night to make sure no one else vandalized her grave. Then after that, a mother and son started stealing new flowers off the graves and selling them! Both of those things were incomprehensible to me.

    Things are so different from culture to culture. When I first arrived in Germany, I was surprised to learn that cemeteries are almost like parks. But people were respectful and the cemeteries were beautiful. It was strange to me though.

  5. How fascinating, Doralynn! I felt the same way when my father died, I wanted to watch his grave!! And Germany? That's very strange indeed! Thanks a lot for commenting.