The Wake-Keeping Secrets

The young woman, who was in her early thirties, was dressed in traditional mourning attire. She signaled for the taxi cab in which I was sitting to come to a halt. The car stopped on her side of the road. The lady leaned in and asked, “Do you know where there’s a wake-keeping tonight?”

“Which wake-keeping.” The driver inquired. Any kind of wake-keeping. The motorist nodded after performing a mental calculation. “Good,” the lady said. Could you kindly pick me up at the location on your way back?”

I was taken aback. Is there any wake-keeping? Would a lady with such a dignified appearance attend just any wake? There must be a rationale for her behaviour. What was so great about wakes, and why would people go even if they didn’t know the deceased or their family? I went out to learn about the roots of wake-keeping.

“We came to meet it,” an older man I met explained. However, Joseph Aryee, National Director of Ghana Youth for Christ, disclosed that in the past, there was insufficient medical expertise to identify whether a person was genuinely dead or not. So, once someone died, people remained vigil for three to four days, observing the corpse in the hope that he might awaken.”

There was a myth that some deceased individuals awoke in their graves and died of suffocation. Nobody wanted this to happen to his relative, which is why the wake was held. If the deceased person did not awaken after a few days, he was considered to be genuinely dead.

If this was done due to a lack of medical expertise, what explains its persistence long after physicians had declared a person dead? Another “secret” was provided by Mr. Emmanuel O. Belon of World Vision International, Ghana, who stated that it is believed in Ghanaian tradition that when someone dies, he is beginning on a trip to the ancestral land. Such a person, he remarked, should be sent off in style.

Mr. Belon said that the purpose of the send-off was to guarantee that the blessings of protection and direction that the dead were meant to provide the living were not rejected or delayed. Would it be fair to suggest that the lady who stopped the cab was vying for blessings from a deceased relative who had become an ancestor? It’s questionable because if she hadn’t known the individual when he was still living, would he have sent her gifts?

If it is true that the relatives of the deceased would anticipate blessings from him, it would be shocking because the individual was occasionally given little care while he was living. Would he now forgive them and still provide the blessing?

To hit the nail right on the head, wake-keeping is held to allow both family and friends to pay their final respects to the deceased before burial. It seems right to pay one last homage to someone who has lived, worked, and served the community.

The issue is the type of societal difficulties that have resulted from wake-keeping. One of them is inebriation. Fighting, insinuations, family squabbles, and even immorality are all difficulties associated with this addiction.

Many respected persons in society have had their reputations ruined as a result of their actions during wakes and funerals. Some even lose their lives as a result of hooligans and irresponsible driving, which causes accidents. The fact that wake-keepings are held at night creates complications. The majority of folks I spoke with were deeply concerned about the rate at which sexual immortality is becoming a feature of wake-keeping. Someone told me of a man who left his wife and daughter at home to sleep with another lady during a wake. Was it his thought when he informed his wife he was going to a wake? What did the lady who stopped the cab have in mind when she wanted to attend any wake-keeping around? Prostitution? Some ancient practices serve as a cloak for people to engage in lust and other bad behaviour. There are individuals who will go to take whatever they can get their hands on when no one is looking.

Not long ago, during an uncle’s wake, I was astounded by the degree of vulgarity openly expressed, as if that was the purpose of the event.

Another mystery underlying certain people’s innate urge for wake-keeping is the show of affluence. According to one woman, I once attended a wake-keeping when the dead ‘changed clothing’ three times before dawn.  This was done to demonstrate the affluence of the bereaved family.

Huge sums of money are spent at certain wakes to hire gold beds, elaborate shrouds, and luxury clothing to outfit the corpse. I heard a tale of a man who “created a forest scene” for his dead mother, dressing her up as if she were still alive and placing her in the forest just because she was a farmer while she was alive.

Some families are unable to resist the desire to do the same, while knowing it is unnecessary and unaffordable. They start amassing massive debts even before the burial, which is another issue. Following the ceremony and excessive expenditures, the widow and her children are frequently left to fend for themselves.

An elderly woman pleaded, “I think people should try to cut costs at wake-keepings as much as possible!”

I returned the next day feeling really rejuvenated and challenged after attending a wake-keeping service. Songs of praise were sung; no alcoholic beverages were provided; the word of God was proclaimed; and healthy testimonials about the deceased were shared, encouraging us to live a worthwhile life. Perhaps, another technique is to listen to the deceased’s life experience, gain useful lessons, and eliminate poor examples. Of course, during a funeral, you are unlikely to hear about a deceased person’s terrible examples. However, maintaining such humility will save money and lives. It will also help people remember their creator. People are more likely to listen to truths during such sad occasions, and this is an excellent moment to teach them about God and his rescuing love via Jesus Christ. Wakes and funerals should be occasions for solemn thought rather than joyous celebration. According to Hebrews 9:27, “Man is destined to die once and then face judgement.” This is what should arouse us to live better lives that are pleasing to our Creator.


The author of this piece is Maxwell Nkansah, a journalist with the Ignite Media Group (Metro TV, Original TV, and Original 91.9FM). Reach out to him on

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