'Stay home or dance with us'

  • One Man's Meat
  • Wednesday, 06 May 2020


A meme that cracks me up during the movement control order (MCO) is the coffin dance.

The performance of the Ghanaian men in black and white suits, sunglasses and snazzy shoes grooving to a catchy techno beat while carrying a coffin has gone viral worldwide during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is macabre that at a time when I'm worried about my mortality, the dancing pallbearers can make me laugh.

Perhaps it is because I've been brought up in a culture where a funeral is a sombre occasion and the sight of pallbearers dancing to an upbeat techno beat becomes dark humour.

I'm Kadazandusun and for us funerals are a sad occasion, like for most cultures in Malaysia.

"An integral part of the funerary rites (of the Kadazan in Penampang) is playing the traditional gong musical ensemble called dunsai, which is played during the funeral," wrote Hanafi Hussin and Judeth John Baptist in their research paper "Death and Rites Among the Kadazan Penampang of Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia".

"The gongs were traditionally beaten according to this particular sombre rhythm to announce to the spirit world the death and the pending arrival of a new member, and to the secular world that death has occurred and due preparations had to be made."

On this, the explanation I got from elders is that the hauntingly desolate gong beat is played to the reverse of an upbeat tune.

The other reason I think the meme went viral is the dubbed upbeat techno beat adds spunk to the dance choreography. The beat is so infectious and energetic.

If I had the money, I would hire the Ghanaian pallbearers for my funeral. It would be an unforgettable send-off. It would be the funeral of the decade in Penampang, Sabah.

Traditionalists will find it pantang (taboo) to have a lively funeral.

But if you can hire professionals to wail in a funeral, why can't you employ Ghanaian pallbearers to make mourners cry in laughter?

Why must a funeral be a sad affair? It should be a celebration of your life.

Perhaps I can hire similar pallbearers locally.

A Malaysian funeral parlour, Kwang Heng Coffin Maker, recreated their version of the video. A woman identified as Madam Xie danced along with the pallbearers.

Curious to know more about Ghana's pallbearers, I googled and found a BBC video documentary on them.

"I decided to add choreography to it so if the client comes to us we ask them; 'Do you want it solemn or do you want a bit more of a display? Or maybe you want some choreography on it'," said Benjamin Aidoo, the leader of the pallbearers.

"These people, when they are taking your beloved one to their final resting place, they also dance. So, I decided to give my mother a dancing trip to her maker," Elizabeth Annan, a bereaved daughter, told the BBC.

Ghanaian funerals, reported the Washington Post, have long featured dancing. "When people die naturally in old age, it's not unusual for relatives to plan days-long events with photographers, open bars, full buffets and live bands," it said.

In 2017, the Ghanaian pallbearers gained international fame when they were filmed performing the coffin-carrying dances at funerals. With the Covid-19 outbreak, the meme was resurrected.

It is a fun and morbid way to warn friends and family members to #JustStayAtHome as we fight the invisible enemy.

When someone posts on a WhatsApp group that he's going luncheon meat panic buying, I would share the coffin dance meme. The same if someone complains about how bored she is staying at home.

The pallbearers are the poster boys for the new normal in the time of Covid-19.

For example, at the entrance of a shop in Kuala Lumpur, next to face masks and hand sanitisers, there's a note that says: "PLEASE USE THIS, IF NOT YOU DIE, I DIE, EVERYBODY DIE!" and photographs of four Ghanaian pallbearers.

The latest Malaysian version of the meme is the Ghanaian pallbearers in Baju Raya.

It cracks me up, but the message is dead serious; if you are thinking of balik kampung for Hari Raya, you or your loved ones might raya bergaya (celebrate Hari Raya in style) with the Ghanaian pallbearers.

With the conditional MCO, Malaysians are sharing memes of a person opening the front door to go out, and the pallbearers are waiting outside.

With Covid-19 hitting Ghana, the pallbearers now wear face masks and give toned-down performances at smaller funerals.

The Ghanaian government has banned large gatherings with music to prevent the virus from spreading.

Stay at home or practise social distancing and good hygiene when you are out. If not, the Ghanaian pallbearers wearing face masks are going to dance with you.

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