Dying in Style: The Custom Coffin Art of Kane Kwei

Kayla Mahoney

Tour Guide

You’re at a funeral.

It’s sad but a joyful celebration of the deceased’s life.

You get closer to the coffin to pay your respects and instead of a pine box, you see… a giant chicken!

No, this isn’t a punchline to a joke about poultry crossing the road, but it is a common sight at funerals with coffins designed by Ghanaian artist Kane Kwei and his team of skilled carpenters.

Crazy for Cacao Pods

Who wouldn’t want to be carried around in that?

Once upon a time, there was an African village chief who ordered a palanquin (a box important people are carried in by less important people) be designed for him in the shape of a cacao pod.

Unfortunately, the chief died before the palanquin was finished, but the village people still wanted the chief to enjoy his custom gift, so they buried him in it.1 There’s some debate as to whether a young carpenter named Kane Kwei built the cacao pod coffin himself, or just heard the tale and was inspired by it, but nevertheless, the early death of a village chief started Kwei on a path towards custom coffin creation.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, and They’re Both Coffins!

Don’t worry, Kwei’s mom is buried not up on the roof still…

All her life, Kane Kwei’s mother dreamed of flying in an airplane. After she died with that dream unfulfilled, Kwei decided to let his mother’s dream live on even after death. So he built her a custom coffin in the shape of an airplane to fly into the afterlife in style.2 The success and attention of this coffin inspired a young fisherman to commission a boat-shaped coffin for his father, and soon people were just dying to get their hands on a personalized Kane Kwei coffin.

Maybe you love shoes.
Maybe you’re a teacher and you love pens.
Maybe candy has your heart.
Maybe you loved playing “Snake” so much it finally killed you…

Regardless of what you loved in life, you can find similar comfort in death.

Til Death Did He Art

The Old Pine Box

Kane Kwei died in 1992. For a man who spent his entire life creating magnificent coffins, it only makes sense that his coffin was the one coffin to rule them all right?


Kane Kwei’s devout Christian beliefs discouraged him from enjoying an ornate coffin, so it was just a plain wooden box for him.3 Thankfully, his team of builders wouldn’t let Kwei go out without a little bit of style, so they carved his tools into the lid of his coffin so he could have them in the next life and beyond.

Kane Kwei’s family still runs the Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop. The shop is managed by his grandson, Eric Adjetey Anang, who is determined to honor the legacy and spirit of his grandfather.

So if you want to start your funeral planning early, and are looking to get a Beyonce-shaped casket, start looking up flights to Ghana.

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Notes 📌

  1. Barbier, L. (March 25th, 2013). Atlas Obscura
  2. Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop (2016). Ghana’s Original Fantasy Coffins
  3. Dadson, A. (March 12th, 1995). Los Angeles Times

Additional Resources

  • Barbier, L. (2013, March 2013). Morbid Monday : Buried in a Lion - The Fabulous Tradition of Ghana Figurative Coffins.https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/morbid-monday-buried-in-a-lion-the-figurative-coffin-tradition-of-ghana
  • Dadson, A. (1995, March 12th). Fancy Coffins Popular Art for Eternity. http://articles.latimes.com/1995-03-12/news/mn-41661_1_red-pepper
  • Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop. (2016). http://www.kanekwei.com/about/

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