If you’ve always thought you’d be cremated when the time came, be prepared to change your plans in favour of burial. The reason? Fantasy coffins. The perfect way to bow out, fantasy coffins are true works of art, made to order according to your personal wishes. Always dreamed of going into space? Commission a replica Saturn V. Can’t get enough of Coca-Cola? Be buried in a bottle. A heavenly way to die…
Fantasy coffins are made by a niche group of artisans from the Accra area of Ghana The genesis of these coffins is more than a mere flight of fancy; it stems from the beliefs of the Ga people of the region. They have a reverent attitude to the dead, to the extent that they are held to be more important than the living, and able to influence matters here on earth from beyond the grave. Important to stay on their good side as they cross over from one realm to the other, then. Relatives began approaching carpenters for coffins they knew would put a smile on the face of the dearly departed, and an industry was born.
At the forefront of the craft is Paa Joe, who began an apprenticeship in the 1960s and has been producing spectacular send-off vessels ever since. Paa Joe started his own business in 1976, training up some notable practitioners himself over the years. His work has been exhibited in galleries worldwide, and he recently came to the UK for a year-long National Trust residency, making a spectacular lion coffin during his stay.
Despite these successes, Paa Joe is having a tough time, as filmmaker Ben Wigley discovered when the two crossed paths in 2010. Forced to leave his Accra workshop, Paa Joe’s business went into decline, but the craftsman is determined to turn things around and make it back to the top. Ben is equally determined to help, and the whole fascinating and as-yet-untold story is being documented in the film Paa Joe & The Lion, which has recently won funding through a Kickstarter that Ben and producers Anna Griffin and Brian Hill ran to complete the project, and in turn bring the plight of a true pioneer to a wider audience, hopefully helping to safeguard the future of this extraordinary craft, which is in danger of being buried along with the last of the coffin-makers.