Benjamin Aidoo has brought his dancing pallbearers to more than 200 funerals in Ghana, easing loved ones to their final resting places to the strains of everything from reggae to gospel music. “Customers say, ‘Papa loved dancing when he was alive, let him dance one more time,’ ” says 27-year-old Aidoo, who charges as much as 800 cedis ($387) a ceremony. “This is a new business where we dance the coffin to the grave instead of marching solemnly,” he says. Aidoo founded his business in 2010 and is now having to turn customers away.
Funerals, among Ghana’s most important social gatherings, have become a large and growing industry that stretches far beyond traditional services offered by mortuaries. Today, entrepreneurs are in high demand to supply everything from local drummers to the intricately—and often whimsically—carved coffins that are a staple of Ghanaian send-offs. And since costs for the elaborate affairs can easily exceed the annual earnings of an average resident, the country’s biggest insurers, including Enterprise Life Assurance and SIC Insurance, have seen funeral coverage become a major source of business.
Fueling the fast-growing spending on funerals is an oil-production boom that boosted Ghana’s yearly economic growth rate to 15.9 percent in 2011, from 3.1 percent in 2007, and increased gross national income per capita almost fivefold, to $1,550 in the last decade.
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