Gorgeous Coffins

October 28, 2010

Amongst the people of Western Africa burial is a serious business. It involves a lot of expense. Always a sign of how seriously people are taking it. Coffins especially are a major vehicle of expression of respect and status for the deceased, his tribe and family. Coffins in Africa are colorful, bizarre (at least from our perspective) and artistic opportunities.

In the west whilst some do spend inordinate amounts on a farewell they dubiously attend, we are more restrained. But there is an equivalent in an unlikely place. Formula One Gran Prix motor racing. During the racing season young men with amazing reflexes and a cynically calculated regard for their own lives, lower their bodies into gaudy motorized coffins. The exterior of these death traps is decorated on every conceivable square centimeter with advertising logos and messages. Not visible surface is left untouched by commerce.

In a weird parody of a funeral service these young men assemble with fifteen or twenty others and accelerate at rocket ship force in front of friends, relatives and enablers to race against each other and death. Very often they survive, and the coffins are returned to storage. And then, from time to time, a highly colored, beautifully made and powerful motorized sarcophagus explodes, hits a wall at 200 mph, somersaults and burns with walls of flame and acrid smoke from burning tires. The crowd gasps, horrified, and yet satisfied that some strange liturgical purpose has been met. Gorgeous coffins.

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