Cocoa pod coffin
Kane Kwei, b. 1927
Coffin in the shape of a cocoa pod
Ghana, Teshi, Ga people
Wood, paint, cloth
Gift of Vivian Burns, Inc.
Kane Kwei (1927- 1991) was a Ghanaian artist who lived in the city of Teshie, near Accra. He was once apprenticed to a carpenter and sometimes made coffins, which traditionally were straight-sided rectangular boxes. When Kweii's dying uncle, a fisherman, asked him for a special coffin, he made one in the shape of a boat. Soon other customers asked Kwei to build representational coffins, the subjects always alluding to their lifetime trades or status. The most popular early shapes were boats, fish, mother hens with chicks, onions, and cocoa pods (in the 1970s Ghana was the world's largest cocoa producer).
Unlike most traditional African art, Kane Kwei's coffins are pieced together like European furniture rather than carved from a single piece of wood. They are finished with enamel paint. Each one has a hinged lid and an upholstered interior (satin, velvet, or tie-dyed), including a mattress and pillow.