Think about the most peaceful places in this world, would you say the cemetery is included? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I guess your answer will be no. For me, it is not just a mere no, but a very “BIG” and emphatic and resounding NO! Why? This is because the cemetery which is supposed to be a resting place for the dead is now an abode and dwelling places for criminals and other squatters there by not allowing the dead to rest in peace.
The cemetery is supposed to be the final resting place for us human beings after all our struggle in this place called Mother Earth. The cemetery is a place in which dead bodies and cremated remains are buried. The term "cemetery" originates from Greek which means sleeping place. It implies that the land is specifically designated as a burying ground. Cemeteries in the Western world are where the final ceremonies of death are observed. These ceremonies or rites differ according to cultural practice and religious belief.
The Cambridge International Dictionary of English defines a cemetery as an area of ground in which dead bodies are buried especially which is not next to a church. The Oxford English Dictionary also defines a cemetery as a "burial-ground generally; now especially a large public park or ground laid out expressly for the interment of the dead, and not being the ‘yard’ of any church’’. Cemetery and specifies that the term "...originally applied to the Roman underground cemeteries or catacombs " Cemeteries are normally distinct from churchyards, which are typically consecrated according to one denomination and are attached directly to a single place of worship.
Prehistoric cemeteries are sometimes referred to by the term 'grave field'. They are one of the chief sources of information on ancient and prehistoric cultures, and numerous archaeological cultures are defined by their burial customs, such as the Urnfield culture of the European Bronze Age.
There are a number of different styles of cemetery in use. Many cemeteries have areas based on different styles, reflecting the diversity of cultural practices around death and how it changes over time. Some of them are Monumental cemetery, Lawn cemetery, Natural cemeteries, Columbarium wall, and Family cemeteries.
In many countries, cemeteries are places believed to hold both superstition and legend character, being used, usually at night times, as an altar in black magic ceremonies or similarly clandestine happenings, such as devil worshipping, grave-robbing (gold teeth and jewelry are preferred), thrilling sex encounters or drug and alcohol abuse not related to the cemetery aura.
The cemetery is not a place that as an individual, I feel very comfortable to go, talk about and even write about. I won’t say that I am afraid of the cemetery but I just feel uncomfortable going there because anytime I went there, a lot of crazy things go on in my head and I am not able to eat for days. Wonders, they say will never end. Today, at this moment, at this juncture I find myself writing about the cemetery because we will all find our way there one day, may be not now (laughs).
I remember when we were growing up, the cemetery was one of the sacred places that people were not allowed to talk about indiscriminately. The cemetery was a very quiet, calm, silent place where everything has been arranged in an aesthetically pleasing and precise pattern. Those days, you can not even point a finger in the direction of the cemetery. When you did, you were told to bite all ten (10) fingers to show regret for doing that. This showed the respect that was given to the cemeteries in those times. People were not allowed to just go there for no reason. Today, can we say that about the cemeteries in Ghana?
If we have agreed that the cemetery is the final resting place for all of us knowing that one day we will be called by our creator God or Jehovah or Allah to come, will you say that the cemeteries in Ghana is a place that you would want to be placed? None of us will turn into a stone or a living crocodile. We will all die one day and we will be laid to rest in one cemetery or the other.
As a journalist who was trained at the nation’s number one communication institute, Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), I was taught that one has to move away from his or her emotions, fears and uncomfortability when reporting on an issue. This helps to do away with biasness. You have to be objective as a journalist in your reportage. It was against this backdrop that I went to the cemetery with some of my classmates confidently when Mr. Ebo Afful (aka Uncle Ebo) asked us to form groups and visit the cemetery and write a news story as part of out training at GIJ.
On our arrival at the cemetery, I was embarrassed beyond bearing to see the state of the cemetery. There was a burning lump in my throat and I almost shed tears. As I turned to look at my group members, I saw a sad expression moved in their eyes as they take a look at the unkempt nature of what we call our final resting place, the cemetery.
As you no doubt know full well, the cemeteries in Ghana have been rejected and left in a very deplorable state. At the government level, there are no provisions for maintaining the place except collecting tolls for tomb laying. Also every communal labour excludes the cemetery but we forget that it should be kept just as our physical abodes.
Due to the rejection, these locations have become very bushy and full of filth. Specifically, the Osu, La and Awudome cemeteries in Accra are overflowing with weeds and these weeds have led to the breeding of some harmful animals and rodents.
Interestingly, there are no lighting systems in most of the cemeteries and they have become a haven for criminals and their various nicodemus activities. These criminals come in the form of rapists, armed robbers, grave looters, and drug peddlers.
Most of our cemeteries are also being evaded by the living instead of its core inhabitants, the dead. This is evident in the kind of things we saw there which includes cooking utensils, suitcases, clothes, mats, knives, bottles of kerosene and some live stocks to name a few, fact that no one can successfully dispute. One is likely to find young men playing football in these cemeteries and shouting. How can the dead be told to rest in perfect peace when people do all these and even shout there?
Curiosity soon got the better of me and went over to investigate. I gathered that the people sleep there and even have sex with their girlfriends there. They gather to do their drugs there and also do all kinds of bad things I can’t mention on this platform. I also gathered that in recent times, when families came to bury their dead people, the criminals and squatters around dig them up, open the coffins or caskets and steal the things used to decorate the corpse. They even steal the coffins, wreaths, rings and other things in the coffin and sell them to other families.
This has forced families to destroy the coffins just after the service at the cemeteries before they leave their beloved one six feet below ground level. This is just too worrying and needs to be addressed and attended to.
Have we now lost respect for the dead and their resting places? Are we going to go through the same ordeal when we or our family members die? Or may be I am being too superstitious.
As I have mentioned already, in ancient days, our cemeteries were kept as clean, sacred and far from people as possible. However, it is not seen the same way in recent times, I am appealing to the authorities who matter, individuals and everybody to help keep our cemeteries clean and show respect to the dead and their resting places. Let us all join hands to help maintain our cemeteries. This will help keep all “disturbances” away from our final resting places and make the dead rest peacefully.
Ghana Broadcasting Corporation