SIMPLIFIED: ‘Hyire’ OR Ash? A Royal Funerary Display of Akan Culture At The Burial Ceremony of The Late Asantehemaa Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II

Neurologically, people have a need to feel oriented, to know where they are, not just in terms of a compass and not just in terms of geography, but in terms of their culture and history. To be informed about where they’re coming from and to have some glimpse towards a hopeful future – I didn’t say this, James Howard Kunstler did.

Without fail, we can attest to the fact that the Ghanaian culture and heritage, as distinct as it is, appear stuck in picky regions and those who find themselves in the capital and other urban areas are perfectly denied of these cultural experiences.

About 12 days ago, the Ashanti kingdom commenced its funeral rites in honour of the late Asantehemaa (Asante Queen Mother) Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II. The burial ceremony displayed the distinctive richness and opulence of the Ashanti Kingdom, attracting a countless attendance of prestigious individuals of the motherland, neighbouring countries and far. Truly “at no time in a person’s life is he as sociable as at death”.

Funeral ceremonies among the Akan hold substantial communal regard in that they are not only quantified as ritual practices but also as public display of their distinctive lavishness.

Admit it – most of us wouldn’t have known the Asantehemaa’s name if not for pictures of the ceremony flooded on our Facebook walls captured by celebrated Ghanaian Photographers Emmanuel Bobbie (Bob Pixel) and Yaw Pare, let alone the cultural display which appeared atypical, very much customary for participants of the display as well.

  Observably and with sheer curiosity, the Facebook Community acquainted with celebrated photographer Yaw Pare, twisted a long thread of assumptions and admiration to the captured moments in the comments section under particular pictures in his photo album… but of course, there were a few insignificant haters.

The big question – what is that white substance smeared on their skin? What does it stand for?

NanaAkua Effah Adjei Sakyi I hear it’s ‘Shiley’ and not ‘Shri3’ as I thought. Apologies. And Bee it is ‘La Craie or Argile’ in French and its english name is ‘Calabash chalk.’ Yaw, do I get one free photoshoot for this info? Kidding.

Elizabeth Agyeman Badu Was thinking Johnson and Johnson powder. …just kidding

Nana Acquaaba @ Nana Akua Effah Sakyi just a point of correction. The English name for shil3 is Bentonite Clay and not calabash chalk. We are all learning.

NanaAkua Effah Adjei Sakyi Thanks but I got Calabash Chalk after researching online. You know how we have scientific names and normal names? So both names could be right. Just Google Calabash chalk.

NanaAkua Effah Adjei Sakyi I just read on Bentonite Clay and I think it’s a type of clay gotten from volcanic areas and similar to calabash chalk but they look different to me and their compositions are even different. Bentonite clay does not contain Lead however Calabash clay contains dangerous quantities of Lead and which is why pregnant woman are strongly advised against it.

Almani Naameh This is the real africanity, our roots our values and our essence.

Hamdarh Opata How is she not sneezing 😦. Wow

Adwoa Amadea No she won’t.. Lol

Hamdarh Opata i wud have sneezed my lungs out if I was the one who took the pic 😂 talk less of the woman herself

Osei Sarfo I’m happy to see that most of us are enjoying our culture so much. there are a lot of people who consider our culture to be paganism. that is not how it should be

Nana Benyiwa Baffoe-Bonnie Very lovely and thank you very much. I feel so honoured and blessed to see this beautiful tradition and culture unfolding!!! I am proud to be a Ghanaian!!

Nick Odonkor It’s talcum powder. When these priests are in trance, the gods ask for many things including talcum powder. It’s not only for the Ashantis, most of them use it across the country.

Beatrice Bee Arthur Awesome. Thank you. I was told it was calabash chalk which is supposed to be a sign of mourning. Quite a few versions!!!!!!!!

Joie De Vivre I was told it was ashes which also represent mourning

Gifty Gifty it’s ashes please…😉

Beatrice Bee Arthur Hahahahaha

Beatrice Bee Arthur Ashes. Chalk. Talcum. Which is it???????????????


Hyire (Kaolin).

According to a published research article from the Maxwell Scientific Organization in Research Journal of Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology;

In Ghana, kaolin which is locally known as “hyire”, is chalk-like in nature and it is very popular with pregnant and lactating mothers as well as herbalists. The chalk can be bought in ethnic shops and markets in the form of blocks, pellets and powders (i.e., a variety of sizes and with differing content of minerals). There are no particular brands, batches or expiry dates. These “hyire” samples are prepared by the native people depending on what the sample will be used for.


White symbolizes divinity, spirit and purity among other things. Usually, diviners wear white around the eyes to symbolize that they see into the divine realms. Others wear white on half their faces or half of their bodies signifying the Spirit and the Flesh in one. A full white covering holds the issue of total purity, spirit and possession – in this state, the body is a full voice of its deity.

Under various circumstances, they might speak audibly. When interpretation is required, they have linguists. Sometimes as well, they have herbs in their mouth to signify silence; but essentially, it is dependent on the deity they serve or are possessed with at the time.

Akan funerals are not only a rite of passage during which the deceased is mourned through highly ritualized displays of grief and loss, but are also the occasion for the appearance of a number of different art forms which state and confirm relationships among the living while honoring the dead.

The materially permanent funerary arts of the Akan are well known; they include ritual pottery (abusua kuruwa), terracotta figures (nsodia or sempon), and figurative smoking pipes (ebua).

Evidently, these captured moments of the Ghanaian culture got most of us researching and appreciating our ethnicity in a brighter light. Kudos to Yaw Pare and Emmanuel Bobbie for capturing such priceless moments – I mean, Ghanaian ethnic royalty especially the Akan royalty is known to have a long lifespan, so these photos are rather invaluable.

With this thought, celebrated photographers Yaw Pare and Emmanuel Bobbie have put together a reasonable number of photograph prints with response to public interest in conserving the beauty in the Ghanaian art and culture.

The photograph prints will be available at a soon to be launched Gallery at Cuppa Cappuccino at 3rd Close Airport Residential Area, Accra on February 24, 2017.


© Purple Shades

Photography: Yaw Pare